October 1, 2014

1 October r 2014 Sharland

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day Sharlandcomes to call Meg and Ben off to S Korea.

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down duck for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.


Karl Miller was a magazine editor and academic who did much to shape the literary tastes of his generation

Karl Miller, British literary editor, critic, writer and founder of The London Review of Books, photographed at home in North London, July 1, 2011.

Karl Miller, British literary editor, critic, writer and founder of The London Review of Books, photographed at home in North London, July 1, 2011.  Photo: Adrian Lourie

5:51PM BST 30 Sep 2014


Karl Miller, who has died aged 83, was a brilliant magazine editor who revitalised the Listener, co‑founded the London Review of Books and for many years occupied the Lord Northcliffe Chair of Modern English Literature at University College London.

Like many of the best editors, he was not an easy or a natural writer. “I always wanted to be an editor,” he wrote in Rebecca’s Vest, the first of his two volumes of memoirs; and as a young man he made his mark as the literary editor of both The Spectator and the New Statesman. “I have done what I wanted to do, though I would have liked to be more a writer of books than I have succeeded in being,” he continued.

His books were few and brief, and – like those of Cyril Connolly, another busy reviewer and editor – they often consisted of recycled pieces loosely stitched together. Though daunting when first encountered – he seemed the quintessence of the dour, laconic Scot – he was regarded by those who knew him well as witty and warm-hearted, always anxious to encourage young writers and helping them to do their best .

Karl Fergus Connor Miller was born at Straiton, Midlothian, on August 2 1931. His parents had split up before he was born: his father was an ineffectual would-be artist, with whom Miller enjoyed a sporadic and often embattled relationship; his mother was an ardent socialist, and Karl himself remained loyal to the faith.

He was brought up by his maternal grandmother on the outskirts of Edinburgh. The Connor family deeply disapproved of his father’s bohemian ways, and Miller’s sense of being torn between the Millers and the Connors prompted his lifelong fascination with doubles, doppelgangers and the holding of contradictory views. He was never “conscious of bearing my parents any ill will for not being around”, but “an orphan self took hold: vulnerable and fierce, bereaved and aggrieved”.

“He who is kept out tries both to stay out and to get in,” he wrote, and the sense of being both an outsider and an insider was to remain with him.

At Edinburgh’s Old Royal High School, Karl was an unabashed “swot”, and the English master, Hector MacIver, encouraged his literary ambitions. MacIver was a friend of Dylan Thomas and Louis MacNeice, and he introduced his pupil to the poet Norman MacCaig; in later life Miller devoted much of his time to advancing the claims of Scottish writers, and he came to regret that he had not expended more energy on beating the drum on MacCaig’s behalf.

“A hard-working scholarship boy”, Miller left school as “a dux, a valedictory orator, a poet”, resolved “in a Scottish way, to get on”. He did his National Service with the Royal Engineers, but spent most of his time broadcasting on the British Forces Network in Germany.

In 1951 Miller took up a place at Downing College, Cambridge, under the aegis of F R Leavis. They might have seemed natural soul mates, but in a further manifestation of contradictory behaviour Miller was bowled over by the stylish ex-public schoolboys with whom Cambridge abounded, and – to Leavis’s horror, no doubt – he quickly abandoned textual analysis for student journalism.

He was elected as an Apostle, and edited Granta, working closely with Nick Tomalin and Mark Boxer, the flamboyant epitome of “metropolitan” corruption, and publishing early work by Ted Hughes and Thom Gunn; his friends included Eric Hobsbawm and Neal Ascherson. Despite the time devoted to Granta, he took a first. He spent some months in Harvard, researching Scottish literature; he also met and married Jane Collet, whose sister married his Cambridge contemporary Jonathan Miller.

Dark Horses was the second volume of Karl Miller’s memoirs

After spells at the Treasury and as a BBC producer, working on Tonight and Monitor, Miller found his true métier when, in 1958, he succeeded Robert Kee as literary editor of The Spectator, then owned by Ian Gilmour and edited by Brian Inglis; his colleagues included Katharine Whitehorn, Bernard Levin and Alan Brien. In 1961 he moved to the New Statesman, then edited by John Freeman. He published reviews by, among others, Frank Kermode and Christopher Ricks, as well as the early poems of Seamus Heaney. He had a soft spot for Eng Lit academics, and when the new editor, Paul Johnson, refused to print a review by William Empson on the ground that it was “incomprehensible”, he resigned on the spot. Johnson handed him a compensatory cheque for £3,000 – a huge sum in those days – but he tore it into shreds.

Miller was appointed editor of the Listener in 1967. Under his predecessor, the historian Maurice Ashley, it had been a tedious BBC publication, dutifully reprinting Third Programme talks and little else. Miller revolutionised it, making it the liveliest of weekly magazines. He retained his liking for impenetrable Eng Lit dons, but he offset them with Mark Boxer’s cultish comic strip, the Stringalongs, based on the doings of an ultra-trendy literary couple in Camden Town. He employed Clive James as the television critic and John Carey as the radio critic; among the authors who wrote for the paper were Dan Jacobson, V S Naipaul, Conor Cruise O’Brien, Ian Hamilton and Brigid Brophy.

In 1974 he was again at a loose end, and Noel Annan, a fellow-Apostle and the Provost of UCL, suggested that he should replace Frank Kermode as the Northcliffe Professor, despite the fact that he had no post-graduate degree and had yet to write his first book, a study of the Scottish judge and writer Henry Cockburn, for which he won the James Tait Black Prize. Miller made the UCL English department into one of the liveliest in the country, encouraging the likes of Dan Jacobson and Stephen Spender to work with his students.

Miller co-founded the London Review of Books in 1979 with Mary-Kay Wilmers and Susannah Clapp to plug the gap left by the TLS, which was hors de combat for a year thanks to a printers’ strike. It soon declared its independence from the parental New York Review of Books, and its long, ruminative essays suited Miller perfectly both as an editor and as an essayist. He edited the journal from 1979 to 1989, and co-edited it until 1992, when he fell out with its proprietor, Mary-Kay Wilmers. That same year he also resigned from UCL.

Miller’s books include Cockburn’s Millennium, Doubles, The Electric Shepherd (a study of his fellow-Scot James Hogg, the author of Confessions of a Justified Sinner, whose work he included in the UCL syllabus) and two volumes of memoirs, Rebecca’s Vest and Dark Horses. He was a passionate and ferocious soccer player, usually in Battersea Park. “I have never been very keen on other people,” he once wrote; but although he claimed that he lost half his friends when he stopped being an editor, his antipathy was not reciprocated. Every now and then he would visit a chapel in the East End and “give thanks with all the religion that is left in me that I haven’t spent my life as a freelance journalist working for papers where no one minds about literature”. He minded more than most, and did much to shape the literary tastes of his generation.

Karl Miller is survived by his wife, his two sons and his daughter.

Karl Miller, born August 2 1931, died September 24 2014


GP Dr Zara Aziz in Bristol. GP Dr Zara Aziz at work in Bristol. Photograph: Adrian Sherratt

David Cameron has vowed that everyone in England will have access to GP services seven days a week by 2020 (Report, 30 September). Under the coalition we have seen funding for GPs down by £943m, increasing workloads, dwindling budgets, a GP recruitment crisis and 50 million patients predicted to be “turned away” from surgeries next year because of government underfunding. There are now 66.5 family doctors per 100,000 people in the UK, down from 70 in 2009, and almost half of GPs say average waiting time for appointments exceeds two weeks due to unprecedented workloads.

It might also be worth remembering David Cameron’s speech to the Royal College of Pathologists on 2 November 2009, where he said that there would be no more tiresome, meddlesome, top-down restructures of the NHS. We then saw the biggest unwanted and unnecessary reorganisation in its history.

It appears that his election strategy is to (a) systematically break promises on the NHS, (b) create a GP crisis, then (c) make more promises about GP care. I believe that the coalition will find out in May 2015 that they underestimate the intelligence of the electorate.
Dr Carl Walker
National Health Action party

The effective way to open GP surgeries seven days a week would be to increase the number of GPs by 30%, with an equivalent increase in practice nurses, receptionists, secretaries and other ancillary workers, plus seven-day access to laboratory and x-ray facilities. All of this would cost a fortune and while I think that it is what should happen, it won’t.

Alternatively GPs could work flexibly over seven days, thus reducing their availability Monday to Friday, making it even more difficult to get an appointment on those days and gaining nothing.

Another possibility is that surgeries could provide a skeleton service for emergencies only at weekend. Most of the time they would be sat around doing nothing unless GPs work together in out-of-hours collaboratives, which is what happens already.
Dr John Russell (retired GP)

I am confused. Was I watching the Conservative party conference or Mock the Week? Apparently someone who looked like Mr Cameron thinks he can recruit, train and employ 5,000 new GPs at a cost of £400m, or £80,000 per GP. Nice joke, Andy Parsons, and a wonderful impersonation.
Harry Galbraith
Peel, Isle of Man

One key factor involved in the increased GP waiting times since 2012 – and the increased use of 999 and emergency departments over the same period (Waiting times are a national disgrace, says GPs’ leader, 27 September) – is the change from NHS Direct to 111 services for the provision of patient information and advice.

NHS Direct closed 60%-plus of calls within its own services, mostly with self-care advice and a time frame in which to see a doctor if symptoms did not improve. Despite the occasional well-publicised error or omission – and its safety record was better than that of either GPs or A&E departments – this was an extremely safe and popular service that empowered patients to take responsibility for their own care, while informing them how best to seek help if things worsened or did not improve.

The 111 services expect to close only about 9% of their calls to home management by patients. The services are largely staffed by non-clinicians using a safe but high-triaging form of computer assessment, with varying levels of clinical support. This has resulted, from the start, and it is hard to see how this could not have been foreseen, in hugely increased numbers of referrals to GPs, A&E and 999 services.

The change has resulted in unnecessary pressure on the NHS, thereby opening it up to calls for further privatisation – ignoring the fact that the institution of many scattered, disparate and poorly overseen 111 services in place of the national and coordinated NHSDirect rather suggests what will happen to the larger NHS once privatisation and its break-up into separate units is thoroughly under way.
Name and address supplied

You say one in four patients has to wait more than a week for an appointment; that should be “one in four patients who get an appointment have to wait for more than a week”. At our surgery if no appointment is available on the day, we have to either ring again the next day or try for a slot later in the week that is not reserved for on-the-day appointments.

Neither my wife nor I have had a GP appointment for seven years because on each occasion we have tried there have been no available appointments. Hence when we have needed advice or treatment we have had to go the walk-in centre or A&E and subsequent hospital treatment.
Peter Simpson
Ormskirk, Lancashire

This month I was in the Tarragona region of Spain and needed to see a doctor. I produced my European Health Insurance Card and was given an appointment for two hours later the same day. Straightforward, excellent facilities, no charge, polite and speedy. Spain may have its problems but it seems to have its priorities right.
Alan Gilvear
Basingstoke, Hampshire

roasted coffee beans Accountancy: 50% bean-counting, 50% guesswork? Photograph: doc-stock / Alamy/Alamy

Your correspondents who criticise India for having a space programme (Letters, 26 September) when many of its people live in poverty should remember that Britain has a space programme and yet our people are eating from food banks. America has a space programme and its citizens are dying prematurely because they can’t afford health insurance. For India to abandon higher education and the scientific research which is an inherent part of it would be a profoundly regressive step in its societal progress.
Peter Ostrowski
Wickford, Essex 

• Well done to Aditya Chakrabortty for challenging the practices of the big four accountants (Comment, 30 September). It’s about time we realised that accountancy is 50% low-grade arithmetic and 50% guesswork. They may use terms like “evaluation”, “judgment”, “forecast” and “assessment”, but it boils down to guesswork. The banks found themselves undercapitalised because they overestimated the value of assets – they guessed wrongly – and the rest of us are still paying the price.
Richard Lewis
Cowbridge, South Glamorgan

• What makes me proud of Britain is that we have organisations such as Liberty and its director is someone like Shami Chakrabarti (Interview, G2, 29 September). What makes me ashamed of Britain is that we so badly need organisations such as Liberty as our political leaders keep on trying to remove or diminish our liberties and rights.
John Spottiswoode

• Actor marries lawyer. A rare enough event to warrant the front page on Saturday, the centre spread on Monday and a further three-quarters of page 9 on Tuesday? I don’t think so!
Martin Schwarz

• I was surprised to see “Stalin” translated into German as “Margaret Thatcher” (Useful phrases, 26 September). There’s nowt so strange as volk.
Roger Kay
Guildford, Surrey

• Is an “ill-tempered woman” necessarily an “old bag” (17 down, Quick crossword No 13,850, 29 September)?
Marion Worth
Newport, Gwent

Writer and musician Mike Zwerin poses with his bass trumpet Mike Zwerin (1930-2010), trombonist and chronicler of jazz under the Nazis. Photograph: Alastair Miller/Bloomberg News

A wonderfully readable account of the Nazis and jazz (Propaganda Swing, Reviews, 30 September) is given in Mike Zwerin’s book Swing Under the Nazis – Jazz as a Metaphor for Freedom. Zwerin (Obituary, 18 April 2010), a trombonist who played with Miles Davis, travelled postwar Europe collecting stories from old men who had played or been involved in jazz under the Nazis. Inside concentration camps and out; not only musicians, but people like an ex-SS man who sympathised with and helped anti-Nazi musicians. And he describes the disbelief when an American jeep entered a village with the words BOOGIE WOOGIE printed on the side. For an understanding of this subject there is no better reference.
Bob Lamb

Palestinian protest against Israeli land seizure Palestinian protest against planned land seizure by Israeli settlers in the village of Wadi Foukin, near Bethlehem, 26 September 2014. Photograph: Sipa USA/Rex Features

Benedict Birnberg (Letters, 29 September) questions my assertion that the US administration’s hands are tied by Congress on the recognition of Palestine. I’m sure his constitutional arguments are correct. President Truman did not wait for Congress before recognising Israel in 1948 – though he waited a few hours and was pipped at the post by Stalin. What I had in mind was the political constraints. US public and congressional opinion is slowly coming to realise that it is not sensible to look at the Palestine problem exclusively through the eyes of the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu. But recognition of Palestine by President Obama now would come as a shock, and shocks are usually to be avoided in international relations. British public and parliamentary opinion is more balanced and we are in a position to take a lead.

In my article (27 September), the suggestion that we should recognise the Palestine state was in the context of the problem of the so-called Islamic State (Isis). But the Palestine problem is a separate one, to be considered on its merits. Some regard it as central to our relationship with the Arab world; President Sisi of Egypt, for example, told the UN general assembly last week that it remains a top priority for Egypt. Birnberg refers to one strong reason for recognising Palestine now: the concordat between Fatah and Hamas, which offers the possibility of a government speaking for all Palestine and speaking the language of peace. There is another reason: the appeal by President Abbas of Palestine to the general assembly for a firm timetable now to end the occupation, which has lasted 47 years. Forty-seven years ago we and the world signed up to security council resolution 242, which opens by emphasising “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war” and goes on to say that the UN charter principles require Israeli withdrawal. In the words of the psalmist, “How long, O Lord?”
Oliver Miles

• Mr Birnberg’s demand for a Palestinian state is surprising because the Palestinians do not need to seek the UN’s or the world’s support for such a state. They can have a state tomorrow. All they need to do is to declare genuine peace with Israel and they will have independence and a state. But this they are unwilling to do. Indeed, they were offered a state  n 1937 (Peel commission “two-states” solution) and in 1947 (UN partition plan) and in 1967 (when Israel captured the territories – after a third war for survival and, incidentally, long before there was an occupation or settlements – and offered to return them in exchange for peace) and in 2000 at Camp David, but they always rejected the offers. Why? Because the Palestinians are not seeking a state alongside Israel but one in place of Israel. If the price of statehood is peace with Israel, they will not accept it. All the conflagrations and wars in the region must be understood in this context. The Palestinians’ latest tactic is to seek sympathy and support for a state, while reserving for themselves the right to belligerence and aggression against the tiny Jewish state. It is an unacceptable stance which, I suspect, has not been fully understood by many. The Palestinians have a right to a state and independence (as Israel gladly acknowledges), but only provided they are willing to live in genuine peace with their neighbour.
Joshua Rowe

Protest against Exhibit B at the Barbican Protest that led to the Barbican’s cancellation of Exhibit B. Photograph: Thabo Jaiyesimi/Corbis

There is a link worth noticing between Tim Bell’s reaction to Hilary Mantel’s story The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher (My critics can’t run away from history, says Mantel, 23 September) and the Barbican’s cancellation of the exhibition Exhibit B (Show with black actors in chains is shut down, 24 September).

An art work, literary or visual, is an act of the imagination aiming to stimulate an imaginative response in the reader or viewer. Here, however, a short story is treated as a real incitement to murder (that the supposed victim is already dead is irrelevant), and an exhibition is treated as though it simply replicated historical events. It is the same mistake in each case.

As a psychoanalyst I try to help people distinguish between the play of their imagination and the constraints of objective reality. This frees their imaginative capacities, and lets them relate better to the world around them. But you don’t have to be an analyst to see that the reaction in these two cases shows the same failure to distinguish between historical facts on the one hand, and an imaginative response to them on the other. This is a kind of concrete thinking that leads dangerously towards censorship and social control.
Michael Parsons

Ukip placard backing Mark Reckless Ukip placard produced the day after Tory MP Mark Reckless announced his defection to the party. Photograph: Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images

I have always voted and still remember the pride I felt when I did so for the first time so many years ago now. My dad was a factory worker and my mum a cleaner, and they voted Labour; so I voted Labour – and I did so in every national and local election until 2010, when Gordon Brown lost my vote. In the past I’ve been a member of the party and active for a brief period in my local ward. Now, however, and after much reflection, I don’t feel Labour represents me any longer and I won’t be voting for them again for the foreseeable future. I believe that the metropolitan types who now run Labour hold white working-class people like me in contempt – and that feeling is now returned with interest. However Mark Reckless is regarded by his party since his defection to Ukip (Rochester dispatch, 30 September), he has been a good local MP. If I can’t bring myself to vote Labour any more – and hell would freeze over before I’d vote Tory – I’m going to lend Ukip my vote in the forthcoming Rochester & Strood byelection and I hope they win.
Ralph Jones
Rochester, Kent

• Vote Ukip, get Labour; vote for the Tories and get hypocrites. The alternative vote system would have allowed right-of-centre voters to put Conservative and Ukip as their first and second choices (or second and first) without giving Labour a look-in. Yet the same Tory ministers who insisted it wasn’t worth changing an inadequate system to prevent vote splitting are now saying that to achieve the same effect we should vote for a party we are dissatisfied with. Drastic action would indeed be needed to secure a Tory majority in 2015. The only plausible objection to AV was the increased risk of a hung parliament. But with the prospect of a second consecutive hung parliament under the existing system, how much weight can we place on that? Unless the Lib Dems and Labour are looking to outdo the Conservatives in the hypocrisy stakes and reveal that their interest in reform was simply for short-term party advantage, they should join the Tories in putting a revised form of AV through parliament in time for the next general election.
John Riseley
Harrogate, North Yorkshire

Member of Parliament Michael Meacher del Michael Meacher, above, has spelled out what is wrong with the UK economy. ‘But why couldn’t Ed Miliband have said it?’ Photograph: Edmond Terakopian/Getty Images

Michael Meacher’s letter (30 September) spells out what is wrong with our economic policies and why they cannot work. Why are politicians of all parties resistant to facts preferring their belief in the false neoliberal doctrines? Back in 2010, Professor Victoria Chick and Ann Pettifor demonstrated from a century of economic data that “cutting spending increases rather than cuts the level of public debt as a share of GDP. As public expenditure increases, public debt falls and vice-versa”. A nation is not a household, as Mrs Thatcher believed. The information is still available in The Economic Consequences of Mr Osborne, on the Policy Research in Macroeconomics website. I recommend it to our policymakers.
Michael McLoughlin
Wallington, Surrey

• Michael Meacher was correct in pointing out that during a recession tax revenues fall, thus increasing the deficit. It does not end there. In 1966, as a first-year student, I was taught by Maurice Peston (Robert’s dad) two of the basic tenets of Keynesian economics: that during a recession governments should spend more in order to increase aggregate demand; and that this is reinforced by increasing the incomes of the less well-off because they spend a bigger proportion than the better-off of what they earn. George Osborne should think twice before claiming ”As every first-year knows …”
Professor Graham Hall
Penarth, Glamorgan

• When the owners of capital extract an increasing rate of profit from wages and salaries because of weak unions or lax income regulations, who then will buy back all the output? How long will it take economists to realise that this situation is a normal process of the unregulated market economy?
Jack Mitchell

• Thank you, Michael Meacher – but why couldn’t Ed Miliband have said it?
Rod White
Uley, Gloucestershire


Michael McCarthy (Nature Studies, 30 September) perpetuates the notion that population growth is uncontrollable and threatens the future of the planet.

There is little point in telling poor families in sub-Saharan Africa or Latin America to limit their family size. Children are an economic investment, potential workers in the agricultural sector. They are also an insurance: they will care for their parents when they get older. When so many die before their fifth birthday, the pressure to have large families is imperative.

In the developed world, the enormous population growth during the 19th century, after the Industrial Revolution, was slowed only at the end of the century by better public health, higher living standards in urban areas and increasing literacy and education. Families became aware that fewer of their children would die and the growing cost of bringing up each child was also a disincentive to large family size.

One of the solutions therefore to the problem of the world’s population growth is the economic and educational development of what has become known as the Third World, not the censorious stances adopted by those who have achieved population stability and a measure of wealth and comfort to which so many in poverty throughout the globe increasingly aspire.

Derek Watts



Michael McCarthy is right: population growth is indeed the truth that dare not speak its name. But read the papers, listen to radio and TV: what do we hear repeated constantly every day, as we groan inwardly, even by Michael’s colleagues in The Independent?

Those running the show are constantly arguing for growth. We are told we must do our utmost to squander finite resources to obtain ever more useless things which we don’t really need. If the population didn’t grow, we could not continue to do this and the system would break down. It relies upon producing ever more houses, ever more cars, ever more roads for an increasing population.

This is why, in conjunction with the growth mantra, we periodically hear cries of panic that births to a population of 64 million crammed into a tiny island are not at replacement rate.

The solution lies not in controlling the population, which is something which we see occurs naturally anyway in First-Wworld societies, but in scrapping growth economics. It has had its day.

There was never a more urgent need for equilibrium economics, finding ways to use less, not more. People can live a contented and fulfilling life without worshipping possessions, wealth and celebrity. The real enemy is growth, not population.

Terence Hollingworth

Blagnac, France


Tories launch an austerity election

Rather than squeezing the poor until the pips squeak, there is a much easier, fairer and more efficient way to plug the £25bn hole in Britain’s finances: eliminate the need for working tax credits by raising the minimum wage to a sensible living wage.

According to the latest figures this alone would save the Treasury £30bn, and place the burden for closing the deficit gap on the shoulders of those who can and should bear it – the businesses who currently employ people at wages so low that the Government is forced to top them up.

Tax credits are nothing more, nothing less, than a subsidy for business paid for by the taxpayer, and if the sponsors of the Conservative Party won’t let them abolish this iniquitous form of wealth redistribution, the Lib Dems or Labour should jump on the opportunity.

The elimination of tax credits would have a further benefit to the Treasury in the form of increased receipts from income tax. What’s not to like?

Simon Prentis


The Conservative Party’s decision to introduce a £23,000-a-year household benefit cap after the 2015 election would seem to reiterate a one-size-fits-all approach when what is required is one that is more nuanced, tailored to geographical location and individual circumstances.

Incentivising back to work those who have made living on benefits a lifestyle choice is laudable, but this policy ignores sections of society such as those suffering with long-term sickness, unable to work, much as they might want to. After one benefit cap and the bedroom tax, why should these people and their families be further penalised?

Richard Steel

Shipston-on-Stour, Warwickshire


The Chancellor wants those with £1m pension pots, already lucky recipients of tax relief, to be able to pass them to lucky others free of tax. Can one respect such a Chancellor who at the same time intends to reduce in real terms the benefits of those who, through no fault of their own, have to rely on those benefits to live?

Those on benefits are often hard-working and in need of the benefits to make up their wages – or unemployed or disabled in need of benefits just to get by. I doubt if “need” applies to many of those recipients of the tax-free pension pots. I wonder what that shows about the Government’s grasp of fairness and fellow-feeling.

Peter Cave

London W1

Ukip and certainly more defections by MPs; the imminent split of the political right in the UK; ever more severe austerity measures affecting the poor disproportionately; a panicked Prime Minister scurrying to Scotland; and an electorate disenchanted with an outdated political system. Is the Conservative Party actively planning its defeat in May next year?

Michael Johnson



George Osborne plans to cut benefit for five million low-paid working households but leave the rich untouched. He has launched Two-Nation Conservatism.

Chris Rose

Wells, Norfolk


Not enough time to mark exams properly

As an A-level examiner, and sometime principal examiner, of over 25 years, I would like to make a couple of observations about the inadequacies apparent among current practitioners (Richard Garner, 29 September).

The most important is the constricted time examiners have to do their job. Recently, exam boards have managed to extend the examining period by a day or two, but this has to be balanced against the demands of the school environment in which most examiners work.

When I started, the Inner London Education Authority allowed for something called “examiners’ leave”, but nowadays even the winding-down period towards the end of the summer term in which most examiners worked has all but gone.

This might not sound too important but, even with my experience, I can only manage to mark three to four scripts an hour, and that means, in order to keep to very strict deadlines, marking for five hours a day at least. Fortunately, I have for many years been in a position to make time for this but I do wonder how most teachers can manage, on top of a typical school workload, without normal human fatigue affecting their judgement – or without their having to speed-read candidates’ work that requires sentence-by-sentence attention.

These problems have been compounded by online marking and, even more, by online moderation. These are supposed to save time and cost, but, with increasingly complex marking schemes, seem to leave many examiners feeling less secure about their marking, despite the support of a new professional institute.

It is also concerning that there does seem to be some turnover among new examiners. They find that combining their day job with marking puts them under pressure, and many do not persist long enough to acquire the experience sufficient to be “adequate”.

I would ask for anonymity as my exam board every year sends out emails warning ominously against contacting the press.

Name and address supplied


New low in Australian refugee policy

Not only “inappropriate, immoral and likely illegal” but also indefensible. (“Australia offers new home to its would-be migrants in Cambodia”, 27 September). As an Australian privileged to travel the world freely, I felt compelled to respond to the new low in Australian refugee policy detailed in the article by Kathy Marks. I would hate to leave the UK without your readers knowing there are many Australians profoundly disturbed by the trend of the Australian government to deny the human rights of those seeking asylum in our country.

Sharon Laura

Newtown, NSW, Australia

Adding to the English mix

Edward Thomas (letter, 30 September), as an Englander, you are the product of a melting pot of other people’s cultures. If you were a true Englander you would welcome new flavours and give the pot a really good stir. Anything else just isn’t cricket.

David Rose

Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands


Sir, I believe that the current crisis over the lack of availability of GP appointments is easily remedied: pay GPs a proportion of their income on a per-consultation basis, at least at weekends “Cameron tells GPs to work at weekends”, Sept 30). The more work undertaken, the greater the practice income. Should remuneration be adequate, demand and supply may match, just like any other business.

This is how Australia makes it work. Efficient and productive GPs earn more, and many British GPs and specialists are emigrating for precisely this reason. We, meanwhile, plug the gaps with doctors trained in second and third-world countries, who would be in Australia if they met the entry requirements. Britain’s problem is compounded as there may be a reluctance for GPs to work much harder or longer because at above £100,000 a year our tax rates are punitive; and with the ever-rising costs of medical indemnity it is not worth undertaking what is effectively overtime for perhaps £15 per hour net. Most of us would rather have the time off. Show me the money and I’ll work anytime, anyplace, anywhere.
Dr Alexander Barber
Camberley, Surrey

Sir, The Conservatives’ plan is intended to enable patients to find it easier to see a GP. Doctors, however, will instead interpret it to mean an occasional longer day on a rota basis, offering the same number of appointments as now. Patients will be no better off, and may just find themselves as frustrated as they do today. What is needed is a contractual appointment rate — perhaps the number of standardised (ten-minute) GP appointments per 1,000 registered patients per week, together with publication of each individual surgery’s performance.
Dr Stephen Humphreys
Welwyn, Herts

Sir, The funding for seven-days-a-week GPs will be paid from existing budgets. At my surgery we have started to politely refuse requests to take on new unfunded projects such as this initiative. We are ensuring that we do not burn out and can continue to cope with the ever-increasing workload. It would be much better for David Cameron to sort out the duplication of out-of-hours care, the 111 phone number, and minor injuries units to create a streamlined weekend service.
Dr Stephen Brown
Beaconsfield, Bucks

Sir, Mr Cameron’s proposal would require more than a doubling of GPs’ workload. It implies an increase in annual GP salary costs of £3 billion a year — excluding additional support staff costs. I believe that many doctors will simply press the early retirement button. Is it really necessary to be able to take someone’s blood pressure on a Sunday?
Martin Hamer
Burbage, Wilts

Sir, Yet again GPs are being used as a political football. One issue to be considered is the incompatibility of increased opening and the viability of small practices. Are patients prepared to see the end of their “local” practice as the price for increased GP access? As a recently retired rural GP, I believe that most patients here would find larger (but more distant) providers of GP services too high a price to pay.
Dr John Harris-Hall
Knapton, Norfolk

Sir, I should imagine that those GPs working evening shifts will be the single, older and childless. Some GPs have families too, and might not be keen to sacrifice seeing their own family in order to facilitate others seeing theirs.
Dr Larry Amure
Over, Cambs

Sir, The proposal to provide 24-hour care by GPs is not new. My contract 20 years ago demanded that I provide care for my patients 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Time off was organised with colleagues to cover each others’ practices. In my case I was on call one in four nights and one in every four weekends. One never felt overworked unless there might be an epidemic. I even had time to play golf and with loci assistance take holidays. However I do not know how Mr Cameron’s plans will
work given the great shortage of doctors. Will he ask we retired GPs back?
Dr Michael Bott
Kirkella, E Riding

Sir, Making money from foreigners has its place (“Fees will soar as schools spend more to attract foreign pupils”, Sept 30). However, Richard Harman’s dismissal of affordability as “a political and economic problem” is a disgrace. What is the purpose of our schools — with their charity status — if not to educate the youth of our country, even at the expense of fewer shinynew gymnasiums and sports centres? If these schools feel any responsibility to their country, they should revert to their proper mission of training our future leaders, not those of our competitors.
Sir Brian Crowe
London SW1

Sir, You report that headmasters at the HMC conference in Gwent
have said that fee rises will continue to outpace inflation. Do the headmistresses agree or were they too busy serving tea to be able to take part in discussions?
Alex Munro
Eastleigh, Hants

Sir, Your report “Privilege is toxic, private head teachers told”, Sept 30) quotes Baroness Morgan of Huyton as saying that private schools “have to be seen as part of the wider educational community” to avoid being viewed as complicit in the exclusion of the poor and now the middle class. It’s simple: how about just being part of the wider educational community? Doing, not just striving to be seen doing.
Deborah Rubli
Chichester, W Sussex

Sir, I was surprised to read the assertion by Alistair Carmichael MP (“Arctic explorer is finally forgiven for telling truth”, Sept 27) that John Rae was the “only Victorian explorer not to have been knighted”. If ever anyone deserved that honour, but who also never received it, it was Haversham Godwin-Austen (1834-1923). He not only first fixed the position and height of K2, but made many first ascents and held the world high-altitude summiting record (6,250m) for some years.
Catherine Moorehead
Guildford, Surrey

Sir, Paddy Ashdown’s piece (“We must embrace Putin to beat the Islamic State”, Sept 30) has prompted me to write. Some years ago President Putin invited Western politicians to support him in trying to stem the flood of, as Mr Cameron has called them, “murderous psychopaths hiding under the skirts of Islam” from sweeping across Europe. Our politicians rebuffed him. We are now reaping the result of that arrogance.
John C Dorrell

Sir, I have no difficulty with George Osborne’s welfare caps (“Working poor face more pain”, Sept 30): it is time that welfare was restored to its original principles of being a safety net in times of trouble and not a universal entitlement. However, Mr Osborne should have announced in the same speech an intention to remove from people like me benefits such as winter fuel, free travel and free TV licences. Suggesting that we donate these payments to charity is wrong: we do not collect and redistribute taxation in order to redirect it to charities, no matter how worthy the causes.
David Peddy
London W9

Sir, Susan Hill (Thunderer, Sept 27) repeats the canard about the Brontës using aliases “in order to be published”. Charlotte Brontë — in her foreword to her sister’s novel Wuthering Heights — explains that she and her sisters were trying to avoid the prejudicial comments of critics. Publishers had for many years been happy to publish female writers under their own names, for example, Jane Austen, Ann Radcliffe and Maria Edgeworth.
Andrew Dickens
Bexhill-on-Sea, E Sussex


David Cameron is driven from the house of Commons following the vote on air strikes Photo: Justin Tallis/AFP

6:57AM BST 30 Sep 2014


SIR – It is a cliché that, every now and again, Parliament is said to have been “at its best”. If the quality of many of last Friday’s speeches, and the general mood of the House, are the criteria, then Parliament was indeed at its best.

But it was also a very sad occasion. Under discussion was a huge area of the Middle East where borders have largely disappeared and where tens of millions of people are jostling for influence and survival.

The sense of powerlessness in the face of such chaos was palpable in the Chamber. And yet it was the common will to drop a few bombs and launch a few missiles.

It was indeed a pathetic spasm of a once great imperial power now in its final death throes.

Professor Sir Bryan Thwaites
Fishbourne, Isle of Wight

SIR – T E Lawrence (of Arabia), upon his return to England, advised the British to leave the Arabs to their own dark and bloody future. Wise words then, as they remain today.

J A Whitmore

SIR – The brutal strategy adopted by Isil has rightly been characterised as evil and barbaric.

An inevitable consequence of the bombing campaign in response is that innocent civilians will be killed, possibly in large numbers. Many people in the Arab world are likely to regard this also as evil and barbaric.

Robert Ryder
Colwinston, Glamorgan

SIR – Isil is chiefly a threat to its Arab neighbours and as the West’s involvement in the area seems to lead to the spreading of the terrorist threat and not its reduction, why does the West not leave the Arab states to fight it?

It makes no sense to bomb Iraq when the Isil centre of operations is Syria, so there is certain to be UK mission creep. Saudi Arabia has 700 war planes, so why doesn’t it take on the role of bombing Isil and put its own boots on the ground?

Valerie Crews
Beckenham, Kent

Anglo-Scots walk

SIR – This morning my wife and I will walk in tandem to the High Street. We shall walk “at the same pace”, but since she is only going as far as the post office and I need to visit the bank, she will reach her destination before me – the post office being closer to our home than the bank.

Journeying in tandem and at the same pace to different destinations does not mean that both journeys will necessarily be completed in the same time.

Peter Sykes
Bramhall, Cheshire

Queue or scrum

SIR – The ability to queue peacefully in Guernsey (Letters, September 29) shows how different life must be there from that in London.

Bernard Kerrison
London SW4

The perfect curtsy

SIR – It is easy to execute the perfect curtsy (Letters, September 29), following three simple rules.

Don’t lean forward, don’t stick your bottom out and position the feet “left behind right, tucked out of sight”.

Always works, regardless of skirt length.

Sandra Hawke
Andover, Hampshire

The pyjama game

SIR – What surprised me, upon reading that Brooks Newmark, the former minister for civil society, sent someone from a tabloid newspaper pretending to be a woman a picture exposing himself while wearing a pair of paisley pyjamas, was that there existed a minister for civil society.

Tim Coles
Carlton, Bedfordshire

SIR – Mr Newmark was a twit on Twitter. The tabloid that contrived this trap is beneath contempt. This whole mucky affair is a very sad reflection of our society.

Malcolm Allen
Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire

SIR – In 52 years of marriage I have not strayed. My wife, an ex-county level lacrosse player, still has her wooden stick and threatens to use it should I twitch.

Kevin Crawley
Kemsing, Kent

Life savers

SIR – Jill Channing (Letters, September 29) is correct. Twenty years ago, when I collapsed in a London street due to cardiac arrest, the paramedics who responded spent half an hour working on the pavement to secure a heart rhythm before rushing me to a casualty facility. That is why I’m still here.

Mark Wendruff
Stanmore, Middlesex

Tidying wreaths away

SIR – Victor Launert (Letters, September 29) asks whether there should be a period after which Remembrance wreaths are removed. I would say: immediately before Advent.

H S Blagg
Car Colston, Nottinghamshire

Why a tie?

SIR – Why must Evan Davis wear a tie on Newsnight (Letters, September 27)?

Dr Michael Barrie
Kingston upon Thames, Surrey

What he always wanted

SIR – I recently heard some expert refer to a “set of behaviours”. Can anyone tell me where I might purchase one as an anniversary gift for my husband?

Mary Ross
Warrington, Cheshire

A tale of magnanimity to defeated Germans

SIR – Peter le Feuvre (Letters, September 25) shares the bewilderment of Neil MacGregor, the director of the British Museum, at hostility to Germans among the British. Some Britons did respond with magnanimity to the plight of German civilians after the Second World War.

In 1946 Maj Gen Jack Collins was stationed in Düsseldorf with the Royal Berkshire Regiment. He saw the starving people there and appealed to mayors of Berkshire towns. Phoebe Cusden, a 60-year-old Quaker, was Mayor of Reading. She made a public appeal. By March 1947, half a ton of food, 150 individual parcels and 12 sacks of clothing were collected.

A Reading Düsseldorf Association was formed and six German children visited Reading. Later on, Reading children visited Düsseldorf. Musicians and sports teams followed, as did more food and clothing.

Phoebe Cusden was awarded a medal by Düsseldorf in 1977 in thanks for her response to its people in their desperation.

Ian R Lowry
Reading, Berkshire

‘The conscious present is an awareness of the past’: Eliot painted by Gerald Kelly, 1962 (

SIR – In his article about Anthony Burgess (Review, September 27), Irvine Welsh writes: “Generally speaking the embracement of a reductive conservative political philosophy seldom heralds an era of flowering for an artist.”

Do the Lefties never notice that it was the conservatives who did the really original work in the English literature of the 20th century? They don’t come much more conservative than Ezra Pound, and his slogan was “Make it new.”

There is a good reason for conservatives actually being the avant garde. For conservatives are traditionalists, and it is only those who understand tradition who can develop the tradition.

Has Irvine Welsh not read T S Eliot’s “Tradition and the individual talent”, an essay which discusses precisely this truth?

Rev Dr Peter Mullen
Eastbourne, East Sussex

David Cameron has insisted that only a Tory government could deliver an EU referendum Photo: REX FEATURES

7:00AM BST 30 Sep 2014


SIR – Is it the position of the Conservative Party that membership of the European Union on the present terms is incompatible with Britain’s interests, and that therefore it has promised a referendum to see if acceptable terms can be obtained?

Or is it that the present terms are indeed acceptable, but that a referendum has been conceded to see if even better terms could be obtained?

The distinction is crucial, because if it is the second, it would explain why former members of the Conservative Party who have joined Ukip see no point in rejoining the party, even though a referendum has been promised. After all, what confidence could they have in the ability of a future Conservative government to achieve meaningful reform if the status quo is acceptable in any event?

Patrick Nicholls
Hemyock, Devon

SIR – David Cameron suggests he will campaign for Britain to leave the EU unless he can secure power to limit immigration from within the EU.

He must know that the free movement of peoples within the EU is one of its core principles, going all the way back to the creation of the European Community. It is one of the four freedoms (of movement of goods, services, capital and people) that underpin the single market. Without that there is no European Union.

Mr Cameron must know that this principle is non-negotiable. So why the pretence? He should start campaigning to leave now.

Paul Hainsworth
Esher, Surrey

SIR – Grant Shapps’s intemperate address to the Conservative Party conference displayed poor judgment. Mark Reckless and Douglas Carswell are accused of betraying the Conservative Party hierarchy, when many alienated Conservative supporters fear that the party hierarchy has betrayed its principles. Mr Shapps missed an opportunity to reassure them.

William Kelley
St John’s College, Oxford

SIR – Mr Cameron appears to have a short memory. Having been elected an MEP for Ukip in 2008, David Campbell Bannerman defected to the Conservative Party in 2011.

He, like Mark Reckless, was elected on the back of supporters “who stuffed envelopes, who walked streets, who knocked on doors, who worked their guts out”. The difference is that, despite being elected on a party ticket, Mr Campbell Bannerman chose not to do the honourable thing and resign his seat.

Christopher Pratt
Earl Soham, Suffolk

SIR – We are told by Mr Cameron that he is going to do this, that and another. Would it be impertinent to ask: when?

John A Jones

Irish Times:

A chara, – Hours before Irish Water begins charging for our use of water, and harvesting PPS numbers from people in what looks a shabby operation, I read that “Minister hires Irish Water director as his personal driver” (Front Page, September 30th).

Political reform, promised and promised again, is a joke. – Is mise,



Dublin 6.

Sir, – Fintan O’Toole (“Does appointment of McNulty to board of Imma meet seven principles of public office?”, Opinion & Analysis, September 30th) has very ably deconstructed the McNulty senatorial saga and I am glad that he has made reference to the seven principles of public life set out by the UK Committee on Standards in Public Life.

Interestingly, these seven principles are enshrined in article 1.5 of the ministerial code of the Northern Ireland Executive. This means that in six counties of the island of Ireland at least, one can expect Ministers to act in accordance with standards in public life that most of us would see as the very minimum we can expect from our public servants.

The Taoiseach has “taken responsibility for this having evolved to what people might imagine it is”. This ridiculous and self-serving non-apology is an insult to Irish voters. I do not doubt John McNulty’s integrity, but the manner of his appointment to the Imma board was simply disgraceful as a matter of fact and not as a matter of my “imagining”.

It is interesting now that Irish people living in the six counties, in which power was so abused in recent memory, can expect from their public officials, as a matter of law, a greater standard of accountability and ethical standards than their compatriots living across the Border. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – The use of prefabs to respond to Dublin’s housing crisis (“Containing homeless crisis”, Editorial, September 29th) is a damning indictment of successive ministers who faithfully promised to end homelessness within the next two years.

While your editorial acknowledges the use of prefabs is “far from ideal”, it then goes on to defend it as the best of the bad options available.

Whether in schools, hospitals or housing asylum seekers, the prefab far too easily moves from a stop-gap measure to becoming a permanent grim reality, which falls far short of the “long-term, stable housing” promised by the Government last year.

Dublin City Council needs to set out clearly the maximum stay for any family or individual being asked to move into a prefab, and to guarantee that the commitment to provide the much-promised “stable housing” by 2016 will be met.

Your editorial is correct in highlighting the importance of the forthcoming housing strategy as well as Budget 2015. Both are opportunities for real political leadership to deliver policies which are people-focused and not just further book-balancing exercises imposing even more hardship.

At Focus Ireland, we remain in the frontline of this crisis, with 40 more families becoming homeless during the past month.

We want the Government to revisit our request to invest €500 million to help deliver 3,000 homes that would also create up to 3,200 much-needed jobs.

I would encourage Ministers to act now – and make sure no-one is left marking 100-years since the Rising with only a prefab to call home. – Yours, etc,



Life President,

Focus Ireland,

High Street,

Dublin 8.

Sir, – I have a nasty feeling that if we put into practice all the advice being given for water conservation then we won’t use enough for Irish Water to receive sufficient money to run the service. Then either the price per litre will rise , or the allowance will be cut. Remember the introduction of extra electricity charges for “low usage”? – Yours, etc,





Sir, – In relation to water charges, the regulator has stated that during the transition period homes without a water meter will pay an annual rate of €176 for a single occupant household or €278 for a couple.

Unless you count filling a swimming pool, there are very few water requirements where economies of scale are gained in water consumption by more than one person. We all have one body to drink, wash and flush waste for. Are two people expected to consume less than one?

Some single households will never receive water meters due to site layout. Are they to continue paying a single supplement on water consumption for life?

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin has said the system for charging for water is fair and equitable. Nine-month capping arrangements are a small concession. Access to water is a human right for all, householder or not.

Give every person an individual water allowance and scrap the household allowance. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – I received an invitation to enter into a contract with Irish Water yesterday and noticed that it was addressed to me using my military rank. The only correspondence I ever receive using this rank is from the Revenue Commissioners. Your readers will be able to work the rest out for themselves. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 14.

Sir, – The observations of returning migrants are often tiresome, however a recent visit to Dublin was my first in the company of an infant and contrasted with our adopted home of New York. First, while those travelling with small children on the No 1 subway train via the Bronx and Harlem can expect seats to be offered to them by commuters of all genders and ages at any time of day or night, such courtesies are less forthcoming when taking the No 7 bus or the Dart through the more leafy and genteel neighbourhoods of Dublin 4.

Second, upon arriving at one’s destination little special consideration is needed when selecting a cafe, bar or restaurant in New York if an infant is a member of one’s party. Almost every establishment will gladly park a stroller and provide a simple high chair at the table. In Dublin, however, multiple inquiries are needed before one can find a location that will facilitate such a request, and one that does so with a smile is even rarer.

Finally, in contrast, a word of thanks to the staff at Croke Park who more than matched their counterparts at Yankee Stadium.The days of a nod and wink and children from six months to 16 years climbing the turnstile are gone but we were glad of the assistance provided in getting one little Gael from the ground to the top of the Cusack Stand. His own county of New York may have lost but he joined in his mother’s celebrations of the Rebelettes’ amazing comeback. – Yours, etc,



New York.

Sir, – I greatly enjoyed Aoife McLysaght’s rightful championing of Mary Claire King’s search for the holy grail in breast cancer genetics with her seminal work on the location of the first breast cancer susceptibility gene BRCA1 (“Here’s to the geneticist who helped map the first breast cancer gene”, September 25th). Breast cancer genetics also has a strong Irish connection, with the subsequent location of a second breast cancer gene (BRCA2) due in no small part to the work of Prof Peter Daly and Dr Ross McManus at St James’s Hospital. A key component of this work was a large extended Irish family with inherited breast cancer and their willingness to participate in this pioneering research.

This generosity of spirit of patients to allow their samples and associated clinical information to be used in research highlights their unsung role as key partners in research efforts to understand diseases such as cancer and design new treatments. In many cases, the participation of patients in these research studies will not have any direct impact on their own disease but will contribute to the development of new diagnostics or therapies for future generations, once more emphasising their altruistic gift which is vital to our continuing research effort. On behalf of the research community, I salute these unsung heroes. – Yours, etc,


Kilmainham, Dublin 8.

Sir, – With reference to the letter from Clive Williams (September 30th), he begins by saying, “If Ireland is to become a smoke-free society”.

The answer to that is, of course, that the electorate never voted for this and it is something that is highly unlikely to happen also as long as adults freely choose to light up.

Mr Williams bemoans the sight of smokers standing outside their places of employment and is implying that a ban on this would stop them from doing it. But those people do not wish to be there and they never voted for the law that forced them into the street in the first place.

There is neither medical nor scientific justification for any ban on smoking outdoors. Instead, these calls come from smug moral high-grounders who would like to impose their version of morality on all of us.

Mind you, in these austere days as the taxes pile up, isn’t it nice to see that there is somebody with nothing else to worry about than the sight of people relaxing outdoors. – Yours, etc,



A chara, – In response to Desmond FitzGerald’s letter on the 1916 Rising (September 29th), I think a couple of points are worth mentioning.

The Ulster Volunteers were highly armed and motivated. Although we will never know what might have happened had home rule been implemented, it was likely some bloodshed would have occurred. It was evident that at many levels there was resistance to the idea of Irish home rule. The “Curragh Incident”, for example, demonstrated that, if so ordered, the British army in Ireland would not “enforce” home rule against Ulster.

It is perhaps wishful thinking too to presume that the Irish Home Rule Bill would be enacted as promised. Throughout the British Empire, colonies had been made promises of self-government only to see these promises later evaporate and Ireland was no exception. Britain in general did not let her colonies go without a fight.

A strain of Ulster unionism has always been implacably opposed to any sort of political arrangement that involves Dublin. The Sunningdale Agreement in 1974 primarily collapsed due to opposition from Ulster unionists and many were opposed to the subsequent Anglo-Irish Agreement.

Indeed a section of unionism is opposed to the current power-sharing agreement.

The ultimate resulting Catholic-centric nature of the emerging Irish State has as much to do with the players that refused to get involved in as those who did. The problem Ulster Unionists faced and still face is that they would become a minority in a united Ireland, a future that perhaps one day needs to be addressed by all of us on this island.

A case could be made that had home rule been implemented in Ireland, conscription for the British army might well have followed, resulting in thousands upon thousands more Irishmen needlessly dying on the battlefields in France.

When Irish men and women did rise up in 1916, the rebellion was crushed and the leaders executed after being dealt with in kangaroo courts. It is plausible to suggest the treatment meted out to the rebels so angered Irish people that this led directly to the War of Independence.

I think it is grossly unfair to blame the subsequent economic problems of the Irish State upon Irish men and women who heroically and tragically laid down their lives for an Irish Republic that they believed in. The fact that it was subsequently economically mismanaged is not their fault; it is down to our own inept generation of bankers, senior civil servants and politicians. – Is mise,


Sandyford, Dublin 18.

Sir, – Rev Dr D Vincent Twomey’s assertion (September 29th) that Einstein “believed in one way or another in a reality beyond the natural world that empirical science explores” is at once hazy and dubious. It cannot be reasonably argued that Einstein was any kind of theist, if this is what Dr Twomey is rather cryptically implying. If anything, he was a deist (one who believes in a god who does not act to influence events, and whose existence has no connection with religions, religious buildings, or religious books, etc). This is clear from many statements made by him. For example: “I do not believe in a personal god and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly”; and “I believe in Spinoza’s god who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a god who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings”.

As for Dr Twomey’s reference to “the new atheist church in Ireland”, this amounts to a particularly egregious case of religiomorphism – the attribution of characteristics of religion to a decidedly non-religious position. Atheists do not believe in supernatural deities. They do not pray. They do not have holy books, holy doctrines, sacred idols, popes or imams, creeds, codes of conduct, rituals, nor do they abide by a parallel legal system.

Not only does it not walk like a duck or quack like a duck, it doesn’t even have feathers. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 16.

Sir, – I am sure a professor emeritus of theology would accept that the onus of providing evidence for the existence of something other than the empirical realm rests with those who claim that such things exist. I have no doubt that if such evidence were to emerge, the “rationalists of the modern scientific mentality” would sit up and take notice.

In the meantime, those who chose to believe in such entities must rely on faith. – Yours, etc,



Co Galway.

A chara, – We need to be very clear that the Children and Family Relationships Bill is a massive step for children’s rights and protection, contrary to Breda O’Brien’s assertions (“Revised children and family proposals fail to tackle tangled web of family life”, Opinion & Analysis, September 27th).

This is a long-needed attempt to modernise family law and reflect the rich diversity of family relationships that exist in Ireland today. Far from ensnaring children, this legislation, if appropriately enacted and resourced, will provide legal certainty to many children living in foster families, step-parent families, same-sex families and all those who live with members of their extended families. The legislation pays careful attention to the lived reality of children’s lives and attempts to provide for legal relationships hitherto ignored which placed children in precarious and uncertain situations.

One Family welcomes this Bill and we encourage all those who wish to provide for the equal protection of all children and the families they live in to support it. – Is mise,


One Family,

Lower Pembroke Street,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – The pension levy, brought in as an emergency measure, then extended and increased, is nothing less than robbery from the funds intended to ensure the continuity of guaranteed payments to those on defined benefit pensions. I have written to the Minister for Finance, who happens to be my constituency TD, and the Minister for Social Protection on this matter, without response. I happen to be a pensioner of a former state company whose fund is in severe deficit and whose members now face a substantial cut due on January 1st next.

Despite this, the “negative” fund is being levied most unfairly and unjustly. I continue to pay taxes to fund the pensions of state employees which, although recently cut, continue to benefit from increases due to the increments which accrue to them. My pension has had no increase since 2007 and now faces this drastic cut. The manifest unfairness of this is obvious. Whatever happened to the “grey power” marches which occurred over the medical card issue? Success at that time was achieved through political pressure. There is no obvious attempt at this time to show the outrage of pensioners over this robbery of private pension funds. It is time to make a stand before the budget! – Yours, etc,



Irish Independent:

Let us hope that the Vatican will overturn the ban on women priests – and sooner rather than later. I hope the forthcoming synod of bishops will consider the church as a family, and recognize that our patriarchal family structure is becoming an obstacle to evangelisation as we enter the transition to a post-patriarchal society. Hierarchy is not the problem, and the church must remain apostolic; patriarchy is the problem, and the exclusively male hierarchy is becoming stale as a symbol of the Christ-Church mystery.

In this regard, St John Paul II’s Theology of the Body (TOB) may provide a solid basis for solving the most pressing issues of human sexuality – both in families and in the Church as the family of God – including the ordination of women to the priesthood in the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

The TOB endorses neither radical patriarchy nor radical feminism and provides a vision of marriage – and gender relations in general – that can be summarized as unity in diversity, equality in mutuality, individuality in community.

Doctrinally, nothing essential (dogmatic) would have to change in order to ordain women to the priesthood and the episcopate. The TOB confirms that there is one (embodied) human nature, shows that men and women equally share in human personhood, and makes clear that the human body, male and female, is what makes our Lord Jesus Christ visible as an incarnate divine person.

What is needed is “simply” to clarify our sacramental theology to separate patriarchal ideology from revealed truth. With all due respect and sensitivity for those who are heavily invested in the patriarchal order of things, this is a clarification that is possible and urgently needed in the church of the 21st century.Jesus never identified himself as a patriarch. The Holy Family was a not a patriarchy. The Trinity is not a patriarchy. The spousal, sacramental love of Christ for the church is not intrinsically patriarchal (as the TOB interpretation of Ephesians 5 abundantly shows), and Jesus Christ is head of the church because he is a divine person and our Redeemer, not because he is a human male.

The exclusively-male priesthood is a choice, not a dogma. The church does have the authority (the power of the keys) to ordain women as soon as Peter decides it would be for the glory of God and the good of souls. The patriarchal age is passing, but the deposit of faith is inexhaustible.

Let us pray that all the Christian churches can discern the difference between patriarchal ideology and revealed truth, and act accordingly.

Luis T Gutierrez

Address with editor

All-Ireland winners Kilkenny

“We must treasure and celebrate excellence of this kind since it comes rarely in any lifetime” .

Gerald Morgan’s statement about Kilkenny hurling (Letters, September 29) seems a tad OTT.

Of course, no sane person could not but ‘flabber-their-gast’ at the Cats’ sublime (and one reckons forever unbeatable) record of Cody-wins and Shefflin medals. Their aggressive tenacity and superb skill is undoubted. Any attempt, however, to question aspects of their play is met with the inevitable “simply jealous”‘ riposte.

But – despite their phenomenal record, classy skills and relentless commitment – are their tactics always sporting? Arm-holding, hand-pulling, chopping on the forearm, swift nudges, fouling body-checks, jersey pulls are all ‘outside-the-rules’ aspects which they have perfected – and rarely get nobbled for.

The problem with any such insinuation is that it will be deemed in very bad taste and labelled as ‘sour-grapes’ commentary. It seems all is camouflaged in the welter of success. But is the ‘gamesmanship’ a good exemplar for either community or society?

Given that the GAA is in every community, is it not behoven to absolutely identify and erase such negative influence on young people, so that it can contribute to vibrant competitive betterment?

Thus, the headline of “flawless teams like Kilkenny”, engages the word “flawless” rather recklessly. Perhaps “flawed, but impressive” might be more apt?!

Patrick J Cosgrove

Lismore, Co.Waterford

The Kilkenny captain’s acceptance speech when receiving the Liam McCarthy Cup last Saturday evening was absolutely brilliant.

I think that it was entirely fitting – after two epic battles against a gallant Tipperary team – that Lester Ryan should join that elite band of All-Ireland winning captains who delivered their speeches entirely as gaeilge – Sean Og O hAilpin, Joe Connolly and Dara O Cinneide are others who spring to mind.

The two games were fantastic exhibitions of all that is good and wholesome about hurling. Then, just when it seemed that it couldn’t get any better, the winning captain delivered a truly rousing oration in our native tongue to render 2014 all the more memorable and special.

Eugene Cassidy

Co Cavan

Labour and water charges

Fergus Finlay’s letter (Independent, 30/9) calls for a socially-responsible budget while reminding us that “one in 10 children in Ireland” are living in low-income households and “without access to basic necessities… “

On the day following the publication of Mr Finlay’s letter, the party of which he has been a devoted member will oversee the introduction of charges for a vital “basic necessity” – water. This will see the households in which those same deprived children live have access to water greatly curtailed for want of ability-to-pay.

As such families struggle with the new water tax their disposable incomes will be spread wafer-thin, ensuring that other “necessities” will have to be rationed even further.

The question is, why will Mr Finlay not resign from the party that is so recklessly imposing such additional hardships on those that he well knows are already in dire circumstances?

Jim O’Sullivan

Rathedmond, Co Sligo

Regarding the one true church

On reading your articles concerning matters in the religious arena I have noted you are falling into the bad habit of referring to the Roman Catholic faith as “the church”. “The church” in its original form consisted of those who adhered to the teachings of the Apostles.

The widespread problems of one organisation ruled from Rome is not representative of the true church, despite their claim to do so. It is concerning that your paper appears so often to agree with their position.

Pastor Paul R Carley

Celbridge, Co Kildare

A very localised heatwave

Are the powers-that-be at Bus Eireann bent on cultivating bizarre and unpredictable micro-climates on board their buses?

This summer, at the height of a heatwave, I regularly used their 109 service, and on several occasions was compelled to wear a coat, the air-conditioning having, apparently, run amok.

Today, as the country moved into its cool autumnal season, the summer’s Arctic blast was replaced by a tropic heat.

The vehicle’s radiators had gone rogue, overpowering the hitherto remorseless air-conditioning – the passengers in the upper saloon, many of whom would have spent upwards of two-and-a-half hours being broiled alive, were offered no respite whatsoever.

I don’t wish to further advance a culture of complaint: Bus Eireann has significantly improved its services (at least on the 109 route) in recent years, and deserves a measure of praise.

Owen O’Reilly

Virginia, Co Cavan

Irish Independent


September 30, 2014

30 September 2014 Sweeping

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day sweeping, shopping tidying

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down lamb for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.


Pierre Ryckmans – obituary

Pierre Ryckmans was a writer who came under attack when he exposed the brutal reality of China’s Cultural Revolution to the West

Author Pierre Ryckmans who writes under the name of Simon Leys is photographed at his Canberra home 01 April 1998

Pierre Ryckmans at his home in Canberra in 1998 Photo: AFP/Getty Images

6:45PM BST 29 Sep 2014


Pierre Ryckmans, who has died aged 78, was one of the first writers to alert the West to what was really going on in Mao Tse-tung’s China during the so-called “Cultural Revolution” of 1966-76.

Nowadays Mao is generally regarded as a tyrant on a par with Hitler and Stalin — worse, by some measures, if “indirect deaths” (starvation due to his policies) are counted in the overall toll. Yet in the 1970s he was the darling of the European radical Left. Ryckmans called them the “100 percenters” — people who supported whatever communist China did or said 100 per cent.

Ryckmans first visited China in 1955 as a student. He subsequently worked in Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong before taking up an academic post at the Australian National University in 1970. In 1997 he translated the Analects, the collection of sayings attributed to Confucius, into English.

Initially sympathetic to the communist revolution of 1949, Ryckmans became an apostate in the late 1960s when he observed (from Hong Kong) the appalling brutalities of the Cultural Revolution.

Pierre Ryckmans at home in Canberra in 1998 (AFP/GETTY)

He spent two years in Hong Kong, living a bohemian existence in a rat-infested Kowloon squat, but it was a perfect place from which to observe the terror that was gripping the Chinese mainland. While western visitors to mainland China were heavily chaperoned and shown only the sights the regime wanted them to see, he talked to former Mao supporters who had fled to Hong Kong and read between the lines of the official Chinese press.

Ryckmans soon concluded that the reality of the Cultural Revolution, which sought to eradicate Chinese cultural traditions and Western capitalist influences from the proletarian consciousness (and in which an estimated 1.5 million people lost their lives) was very different from the romantic picture propagated by many Western intellectuals.

By the time he arrived in Australia, writing under the pen name Simon Leys, Ryckmans had just finished The Chairman’s New Clothes: Mao and the Cultural Revolution (1973, published in France as Les habits neufs du president Mao in 1971). He described the Cultural Revolution (still in progress when he wrote the book) as “Five years of upheaval, of blood and madness”, and likened Western enthusiasm for China’s lack of traffic problems as being akin to praising “an amputee because his feet aren’t dirty”.

There followed Ombres Chinoises (Chinese Shadows, published in English in 1977), written after a six-month stint in Beijing in 1972 as a cultural attaché at the Belgian Embassy, during which Ryckmans witnessed the eradication of much of the city’s architectural heritage. “The destruction of the gates of Peking is, properly speaking, a sacrilege,” he wrote, “and what makes it dramatic is not that the authorities had them pulled down but that they remain unable to understand why they pulled them down.’’

By the time the books were published, the West was enjoying a new love-in with China following Richard Nixon’s historic visit in 1972, an event which inspired a deluge of hagiographical writings about China’s “Great Helmsman”. Ryckmans’s books created a furious controversy by telling the world about wholesale massacres that those involved in cultural rapprochement would have preferred to forget.

The Maoists, especially in France, were furious. “The faithful tracked down my real identity and denounced me to the Beijing authorities,” Ryckmans recalled. As a result he was banned from entering China. When asked by a French chat show host why he had chosen to take on what seemed like the entire Parisian intellectual establishment, he replied with one word: “Chagrin” (grief).

It was just as bad in Australia where, in 1978, he became involved in a bitter debate with the country’s former ambassador to China, Stephen FitzGerald, who had described Mao as a “prophet and visionary” and challenged the “prior assumption … that there is a case to be made against China on human rights”. In response Ryckmans published a paper (included in his 1987 book The Burning Forest) in which he documented human rights abuses under Mao back to the period 1949-52, and attacked sinologists who avoided the word “totalitarian” when describing the Chinese system — a feat he compared to “describing the North Pole without ever using the word ice”.

Even after the Chinese themselves had begun to refer to the Cultural Revolution as the “Great Disaster”, Ryckmans found himself under attack. In 1988 his appointment as head of Chinese studies at Sydney University was opposed (unsuccessfully) by Australia’s former Labour Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in the university’s senate on the grounds that closer links were needed with the new China.

Pierre Ryckmans in 1998 (AFP/GETTY)

That was the year before the massacre of Tiananmen Square. In an essay written after the event, Ryckmans observed that mass killings of demonstrators all over China had offered even the most thickheaded a glimpse of the reality. To the Chinese communists, murder had always been “a basic political device’’.

But he resisted the temptation to boast about his prescience: “The idea of sitting atop a heap of dead Chinese bodies to cackle triumphantly: I told you so! I told you so! like a hen that has just laid an egg, is not particularly appealing,” he said.

A couple of weeks later he published an essay in the New York Review of Books in which he used a traditional Chinese parable to try to answer the question why so many “experts” had been so consistently wrong about China. The story concerned a man who was able to recognise instantly whether a person was a thief. “The king naturally decided to give him a position in the Ministry of Justice, but before the man could take up his appointment, the thieves of the kingdom banded together and had him assassinated. For this reason, clear-sighted people were generally considered cripples, bound to come to a bad end; this was also known proverbially in Chinese as ‘the curse of the man who can see the little fish at the bottom of the ocean’.”

Pierre Ryckmans was born on September 28 1935 in Brussels into a well-off, devout Roman Catholic family. A relative was governor of the Belgian Congo; another a monsignor.

He studied Law and Art History at Louvain University, but his life changed when he and other students were invited on a tour of China in 1955, paid for by the Chinese authorities. The trip culminated in an audience with the prime minister, Zhou Enlai, yet Ryckmans was more interested in what he saw of China’s traditional culture. As it was impossible at that time for a westerner to study such things in the People’s Republic, he settled in Taiwan, where he met his future wife, Han-fang Chan.

He later lived in Singapore and Hong Kong before moving to Australia, where he taught Chinese culture for 17 years at the Australian National University and was Professor of Chinese Studies at Sydney University from 1987 to 1993.

After Tiananmen he largely stopped writing about contemporary Chinese politics. Among his other books, The Death of Napoleon (published in English in 1992), a novel in which he imagined the deposed emperor escaping from exile on St Helena and making his way back to France, was adapted into a film starring Ian Holm and Hugh Bonneville in 2001.

In his later years Ryckmans, a tall, donnish figure who remained a Belgian citizen although he lived in Australia, wrote regularly for the New York Review of Books and for Le Figaro, seemingly relishing his role as an intellectual provocateur.

Pierre Ryckmans (AFP/GETTY)

Among other things he savaged Christopher Hitchens for his book about Mother Teresa (“Bashing an elderly nun under an obscene label does not seem to be a particularly brave or stylish thing to do”); attacked Australian universities as having degenerated into a bazaar (“If one thinks of the great teachers of humanity — the Buddha, Confucius, Socrates, Jesus — one is struck by a curious paradox: today, not a single one of them would be able to obtain even the most modest teaching post in one of our universities”); and declared that “only a moron would wish to attend the Olympic Games’’.

“Life,” he observed, “is a long dialogue with imbeciles.’’

He is survived by his wife and by their daughter and three sons.

rPierre Ryckmans, born September 28 1935, died August 11 2014


Schoolchildren raise their hands to answer a question from the teacher. Not all classes are subject to disruptive behaviour. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA

Sir Michael Wilshaw’s comments attacking headteachers for bad pupil behaviour are not conducive to finding solutions (Headteachers too soft on unruly pupils – Ofsted chief, 25 September. It echoes his highly critical comments two years ago about teachers who say they are stressed.

We agree that low-level disruption in class is a real problem which must be addressed to help improve education standards, but what is the government doing to support teachers dealing with a range of abilities, ballooning class sizes and longer hours? The application of consistent behaviour policy, and teachers working with parents, is key to tackling this issue, but what teachers really need is sufficient continual professional development and the support of their headteachers, who in turn need to be backed up by properly trained governors.

How helpful is it to keep telling our teachers they are not good enough? Pointing the finger of blame is not the same as providing resources to improve practices. It is time to celebrate all education staff and ensure they have sufficient ongoing training to help them do their jobs effectively.
Julian Stanley
Chief executive, Teacher Support Network Group

• It’s interesting to see that none of the educational experts quoted in response to Ofsted’s report on low-level disruption in schools has anything to say about why children may be doing this. They seem to be taking it for granted that children just naturally behave badly whenever they can.

Maybe we could look at this in a different way? I’ve observed many lessons, most of them brilliant, but I have also seen lessons where the only thing that puzzled me was why the kids were only indulging in low-level disruption, when their time was being outrageously wasted by a boring teacher and often – sad to say – tedious curricular content as well.

Some schools already successfully involve children in the evaluation of teaching. Since this has a hugely positive effect on children’s sense of self-worth and personal responsibility (and hence on behaviour), why doesn’t Ofsted encourage it on a larger scale? Doesn’t it make sense to get feedback on quality from the people best placed to provide it – ie the customers? Sorry, I meant the pupils.
Cary Bazalgette
Former head of education, British Film Institute

• Sir Michael Wilshaw has advocated an increasingly assertive stance towards low-level persistent disruptive behaviour in schools. This will undoubtedly lead to a rise in the rate of children being excluded from school.

The UK ADHD Partnership is committed to improving the future of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. We know that 11% of excluded children have ADHD, which is a treatable condition. We have campaigned for children experiencing a second fixed-term exclusion to be screened for ADHD and other underlying mental health conditions.

We believe this intervention might be more effective in achieving Sir Michael Wilshaw’s aims than asking headteachers to get “out of the office and into the corridors”. Furthermore, this would provide an opportunity to benefit “disruptive children” and those who learn alongside them.
Dr Susan Young
President, UK ADHD Partnership

• What a joy to read about a head who obviously likes the young people she teaches (Once every pupil here ended up in prison. Now, without any rules, they have a future, 27 September). Claire Lillis knows that what they wear has no impact on their achievements. She knows that coercion and fear are immediately intuited by children and young people. And the results at Ian Mikardo high school bear out her faith in the 40 needy boys who attend. Ms Lillis, who is unconcerned that children know her first name (often a classified secret) has an enabling and coherent educational philosophy. Would that it were replicated – though, sadly, far too many couldn’t and wouldn’t risk this today.
Anne Reyersbach

• Ian Mikardo high school sounds excellent. Strong but flexible and imaginative teachers, and small classes. In some important ways, a bit like Eton. It’s all the places in between that I worry about. If you have the possibility of what the head of Ian Mikardo calls serious incidents constantly in mind, Sir Michael Wilshaw’s concerns about humming and fidgeting may indeed seem trivial. Continuous low-level disruption, though, can be peculiarly insidious and destructive. Claire Lillis wants to promote “oracy” (chatting), which I agree is vitally important, particularly in these times of long-term screen-gazing. But the ability to be silent in class when others are concentrating, and to enjoy and use silence well oneself, should never be underrated.
Louise Summers

MF008737 HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus. Photograph: Michael Freeman/ Michael Freeman/CORBIS

In addition to FDA approval for Truvada for HIV-positive patients, the World Health Organisation has recommended pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) as an option for gay men at risk of HIV (Can a new drug help to end 30 years of blighted lives?, 29 September). A process is under way within the NHS to consider its use, and an important research project is investigating how it might be best be provided in England. With about nine gay men a day getting diagnosed with HIV in the UK, we need to implement effectively targeted PrEP as soon as possible and demonstrate that we’re prepared to turn official words in support of prevention into action and funding.
Yusef Azad
Director of policy and campaigns, NAT (National AIDS Trust)

Young Tory activists, party conference in Birmingham. Blue T-shirts: young Tory activists at the 2014 Conservative party conference in Birmingham. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

I was in Hong Kong watching on TV as the tanks went into Tiananmen Square, having been one of the thousands evacuated from Shanghai a few weeks previously (Hong Kong at a standstill as thousands of pro-democracy protesters flood streets, 29 September). The next morning I was due to meet a group of students, most of whom had been protesting. There was a full turnout of very tired but interesting students. Afterwards their tutor said: “They are just realising they are Chinese.” Now it seems that a subsequent generation has realised what that means.
David Cockayne
Lymm, Cheshire

• Brava on your fantastic article on gender bias on Britain’s stages (23 September). We wanted to point out to Kate Mosse, who “questioned whether a … women-only prize might prove fruitful for theatre”, that the Susan Smith Blackburn prize has been proving fruitful in rewarding and promoting women playwrights since 1978. Last February Phyllida Lloyd presented the 36th annual prize to Lucy Kirkwood for Chimerica and we currently award $70,000 annually to 10 finalists working in the English-speaking theatre (winner $25,000, special commendation $10,000, and other finalists $5,000). For a full list of finalists and winners see
Alex Kilgore
President, Susan Smith Blackburn prize

• I was amused to see the photo of young Tory activists wearing T-shirts over their shirts (Conservative party conference, 29 September). Could they have been inspired by Steve Bell’s depiction of John Major’s underpants?
Simon Baker

• So George Osborne plans to freeze working-age benefits (Report, 29 September). It would do the economy far more good if he tackled low-pay employers’ benefit dependency by scrapping working tax credits and introducing a living wage.
Kate Francis

• I imagine Brooks Newmark resigned because he broke his own moral code, not anyone else’s (Comment, 29 September).
Bernadette Sanders

• There’s nothing wrong with being elderly, but 64 is not elderly (Graffiti painter killed by train, 27 September).
Michael Rank (aged 64)

Portrait of Bertolt Brecht (detail) Detail of Rudolf Schlichter’s Portrait of Bertolt Brecht, 1926/27. The playwright spent the last years of his life in East Berlin. Photograph: Corbis

To open his article on German culture (Made in Germany, Review, 27 September), Neil MacGregor highlights a wetsuit used by someone attempting to flee East Germany. This is the equivalent of exhibiting a hood used by British troops in their maltreatment of Northern Irish and Iraqi prisoners as an icon of British culture.

He also equates the two German dictatorships by writing of the “situation under both the Nazis and the Stasi”. It needs to be stated unequivocally that the Nazis were the government of 1930s Germany, imprisoning tens of thousands of political dissidents, torturing and murdering hundreds of thousands of others in concentration camps for racial and political reasons. The regime also carried out a cultural witch-hunt, burning books and demonising “decadent” artists. The Stasi did not run the GDR, it was merely a very powerful security apparatus, but always under the control of the Socialist Unity party. It did not imprison thousands or torture its perceived enemies, even if it was often heavy-handed and unjust. MacGregor also reiterates the incredible, often used, but unsubstantiated claim that “one in three of the population were informing on their friends” to the Stasi. The GDR was a socialist state, even if centrally and bureaucratically governed, and most people lived their lives with little or no relations or connection with the state security services.

MacGregor also writes about Meissen in the same distorted vein: “so the factory set up by August the Strong received commissions to make official portraits of the leaders of the communist East German state”. The factory’s main role in the GDR continued to be to produce traditional first-class Dresden porcelain; it did indeed make small ceramic medallions, but mostly commemorating German cultural figures like Goethe, Lessing and Schiller, and extremely few of communist figures.
John Green

• Two of the iconic cultural figures mentioned in Neil MacGregor’s article, Ernst Barlach and Käthe Kollwitz, were celebrated and promoted in the GDR (East Germany), although the former was a committed Christian and the latter a pacifist. I hope the new exhibition in the British Museum and the BBC series accompanying it will not simply ignore the contribution made to German culture by the GDR, as is usually done. After all, two of the greatest theatre men of the 20th century, Bertolt Brecht and the Austrian opera director Walter Felsenstein, worked and produced some of their best works there and were supported and heavily subsidised by the government. And Heiner Müller, one of Germany’s best modern dramatists, was a GDR citizen. The country’s orchestras, under conductors like Kurt Masur, were world-famous for the excellence of their music-making; the renowned tenor Peter Schreier and baritone Olaf Bär also learned their handiwork there. This welcome exhibition should be an opportunity to reassess German culture, but without the distorting lenses of the cold war.
Bruni de la Motte

• Neil MacGregor chose a great symbol of postwar Germany, women clearing up the rubble after the war (Trümmerfrauen). As he says, the particular rubble of Dresden was caused by British and US bombing, killing civilians and the city’s phenomenal cultural heritage. Later the Soviet army arrived in a devastated Dresden and, writes MacGregor “removed the entire art collection”. Plunderers and thieves?

In fact all the treasures the Soviet soldiers had found hidden in cellars and water-logged tunnels, often badly packed and damaged, were returned to Dresden in 1956, restored to their former glory by masters in the Soviet Union – including the priceless Sistine Madonna. That should be remembered too.
Georgia Kalla

George Osborne at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham, 29 September George Osborne delivers his speech at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham, 29 September 2014. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images

The Tories have enjoyed attacking Ed Miliband over his failure to mention the deficit in his conference speech (Report, 25 September), but more importantly they fail to mention what is happening to the deficit on their watch. The whole point of Osborne’s austerity was supposedly to reduce the budget deficit. But the data shows it’s actually rising. Last month he had to borrow £11.6bn, £700m more than a year ago, and, despite being forecast to borrow 12% less this year, he’s so far had to borrow 6% more.

When the bankers’ crash erupted in 2008-09, the deficit peaked at £159bn and Alistair Darling stimulated the economy with two expansionary budgets. The deficit fell £38bn in two years. Then Osborne’s austerity kicked in and the rate of deficit reduction halved in the next two years to £99bn last year. This year it seems likely that the deficit will increase to around £105bn. Why? Because if Osborne shrinks the economy – and average wages are already 9% down in real terms since the crash, and still falling – then tax receipts will shrink as well, and if they shrink faster than government expenditure is cut, the deficit will rise, which is exactly what is now happening.

This torpedoes several government claims. That austerity is working; it isn’t, it’s proving counterproductive. That the drop in unemployment is feeding growth and government revenues; it isn’t, the OBR forecast that tax receipts would rise 6.5% this year, but they’ve dropped by 0.8%. And that the government is on track with its (fantasied) “long-term economic plan”. It isn’t, when the National Institute of Economic and Social Research estimates that growth is already starting to slow (with third-quarter growth down to 0.6%), manufacturing orders have nosedived, the trade gap is widening to an all-time record, business investment is still flat, and public finances – the heart of the Osborne experiment on the British economy – are now badly deteriorating.
Michael Meacher MP
Labour, Oldham West and Royton

Teacher and pupil reading book ‘Avid readers eventually acquire nearly all the rules of phonics and spelling, as a result of reading.’ Photograph: Image Source / Alamy/Alamy

Your report (Rise in school literacy attributed to phonics, 26 September) provides evidence only that intensive and “systematic” phonics instructions will produce higher scores on tests of phonics. In the “phonics check”, children were asked only to pronounce words presented in a list.

There is substantial research showing that heavy phonics instruction makes no significant contribution to tests in which children have to understand what they read.

Real reading ability is the result of actual reading, especially of books that readers find interesting. Avid readers eventually acquire nearly all the rules of phonics and spelling, as a result of reading.
Stephen Krashen
Professor emeritus, University of Southern California 

• Secure phonic knowledge is only part of the story in successful reading, as all Reading Recovery teachers will tell you. The complex activity of reading does involve decoding letters to make words, but more importantly entails translating those words into a message that has meaning. Children who have difficulties often read as if each word is a separate challenge; they need to be taught to look carefully, listen to themselves – in fact, to monitor their own reading. They are then prepared to stop and correct any errors that do not make sense or sound wrong.

The government’s obsession with phonics may have raised the number of children who can decode individual words. But has it translated into successful readers who read with meaning and enjoyment and are not just “barking at print”?
Anne Ayres
Huthwaite, Nottinghamshire

• Remarkable – more teaching phonics results in better phonics test scores. The comment from Dr David Waugh that “results generally improve once teachers know and understand tests and are able to teach children how to pass them” (Success exemplifies benefits of consistent policies, 26 September) was a bit of a giveaway. We need better evidence before claiming a rise in literacy.
Simon Oxley
Cheadle Hulme

John Starbuck (Letters, 27 September) is too generous to Jack Straw’s stance on niqab wearers. Like Jack, I am a partially deaf MP. Like Jack, I use the phone a lot. Like Jack, I cannot lip-read people on the phone, nor see their expression or demeanor. Neither of us says we won’t deal with people on the phone. It’s inescapable that Jack’s problem is with the niqab, not his capacity to interact effectively with someone whose face he can’t see.
Andrew Stunell MP
Lib Dem, Hazel Grove

• You report (Sport, 26 September) that Real Madrid pays all Cristiano Ronaldo’s tax on the income it gives him. Should this be known as Ronaldo’s paradox? As soon as the club pays his tax, it has handed him new income, requiring further tax. And so on, ad infinitum.
Peter Burke
Bembridge, Isle of Wight

• Whether Britain is responsible for paying unemployment benefit to EU citizens who worked here and are now out of work in their home countries seems somewhat irrelevant (Report, 27 September). If they don’t attend the job centre every two weeks and comply with the erratic and punitive demands of their “adviser”, then they will be sanctioned. Problem solved.
Gwyn Fields

• Once Mr Wilshaw has all pupils sitting straight and silent in class (Report, 26 September), will he issue brain-scanning caps to ensure they’re all concentrating on what the teacher is saying, rather than day-dreaming about what they plan to do when released from prison back to real life?
Averil Lewin
Ely, Cambridgeshire

• Doncaster racecourse last weekend was like young Tory gatherings in the 60s (Report, 27 September). Kangol beret caps and Tootal cravats, and possibly some Watneys Red Barrel around.
Chas Brewster
Boston, Lincolnshire


The decision of the Labour Party to introduce a mansion tax (“Tory donors are likely to pay millions under Labour’s mansion tax”, 29 September) ignores the need to correct the injustices of the council tax.

This tax was always understood to be hitting the poorest tenants hardest. Now calculations undertaken for us by the New Policy Institute (NPI) show that it is worse than we thought. During the period surveyed, council tax (Band D) rose by 154 per cent and the average house price in the UK rose by 305 per cent.

Home owners were enriched by a chaotic housing market, but at least they paid their own council tax. Tenants gained nothing; as landlords’ wealth trebled, they made the tenants pay their council tax as well as ever-increasing rents. The injustice worsened in April 2013 when benefit recipients could be required to pay up to 30 per cent of council tax by local authorities. Over the past 10 years of council tax the single adult jobseeker’s allowance increased by 31 per cent, the RPI by 38 per cent, the cost of food by 46 per cent and of domestic fuel by 154 per cent.

Those of us who would like to see the council tax, business rates and stamp duty abolished and replaced with a land value tax, of about 1.0 per cent, note with interest that the average Band D council tax as a proportion of average house prices fell from 0.92 per cent in 1993 to 0.58 per cent in 2013.

Homeowners, landlords and property speculators; you have had your cushy innings of rising house prices and lower taxation. It is now time to love your neighbours by giving way to the benefit-claiming tenants of the UK, in work and unemployment, who are continually impoverished – both relatively and absolutely –  by governmental ineptitude over the past 30 years, and by accepting a progressive land-value tax in the interests of economic and social justice.

Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty
London N17

I thought this Government was going to be hard on tax avoidance and restrict tax-avoidance schemes, but yesterday George Osborne has introduced a new loophole that will enable the rich to avoid further tax. Set up a pension scheme to meet your needs as a pensioner, bung some more money into another pension scheme, of course with tax relief on the contributions. Then leave it until you die when your grandchildren will receive these tax-free contributions grossed up. Nice one George!

AB Crews
Beckenham,  Kent

The palaver over a mansion tax is an all-too-convenient distraction for our mainstream parties (report, 26 September). Meanwhile council tax is crying out for reform. It is far too regressive. The answer, of course, is more bands (better still a set percentage of the value of the property) and a long overdue revaluation. It’s been  23 years since properties were valued.

More bands and a revaluation merely redistributes the council tax burden with, in all likelihood, there being more winners than losers. What’s not to like?

Time for courage from our political class.

Yugo Kovach
Winterborne Houghton, Dorset

The NHS is miles ahead of its rivals

T Sayer (Letters, 25 September) considers the NHS to be “not fit for purpose”. In June of this year The Independent reported the results of a comparison between the healthcare systems of New Zealand, Australia, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada, Britain and the US.

The comparison, carried out by a US-based foundation, ranked Britain first overall, despite having the second-lowest healthcare costs of all 11 countries included. Britain was first in 9 of 11 characteristics considered, and failed to make the top three only in “healthy lives” which can scarcely be laid at the door of the NHS.

Before we consider discarding the world’s best system, we should be damn sure we have a better alternative.

Ken Campbell

After a career of building up community mental-health services in Kent in the 1980s and 90s I recently experienced the impact of NHS cuts on the mental-health services offered to a close family friend. After an initial, serious mental-health crisis and eventual recovery through the services of a crisis intervention team, there was a lack of skilled ongoing support to the patient and his family. This resulted in a repeat crisis 12 months later and admission to an in-patient bed for three months.

This is not just bad mental-health practice; it is economic nonsense. Any “savings” made by mental-health cuts must be set against real costs they give rise to – in this case the cost of a repeat crisis, three months’ inpatient service, lack of employment, and intense family stress.

It is easy to cut services but not easy to build up a workforce of appropriately skilled and committed staff in the mental-health field.

Barbara Tower
Warlingham, Surrey

Congratulations to The Independent for featuring on your front page Harry Leslie Smith, with his eloquent warning on the UK’s possible return to the dark days before the NHS (24 September).

Sally Parrott
Cranleigh, Surrey

Royal society is a club for older white men

The president of the Royal Society, Sir Paul Nurse, has launched an investigation after the scientific body awarded just two University Research Fellowships to women and 41 to men (report, 25 September). Better than an investigation would be a solution. If the Royal Society were to award grants to each gender in the same proportion as applications from each gender, then there could never be any bias: unless of course you believe one gender to be less able than the other.

Further, since it has been suggested that women in science on average have less self-confidence than their male peers, removing the term “outstanding” from the Royal Society’s grant descriptions (“For outstanding scientists in the UK”) might serve to increase the proportion of female applicants.

These simple acts might prevent the Royal Society from being described as “a club of mostly older white men that every year picks more similar members to join their club” by the eminent American professor Jonathan Eisen.

Dr Louise Allcock
Galway, Ireland

An “Englander” –  and proud of it

It is never long before any expression of the wish to leave the EU and to bring immigration largely to a stop invokes the charge of “Little Englander” (Editorial, 29 September). It is a patronising charge intended to discomfort and embarrass the recipient. I am neither a little nor a big Englander, merely an Englander who wishes to be allowed to continue to live his life immersed in his own culture, with all its foibles and its faults as well as its joys, and not immersed in a melting pot of other people’s cultures, no matter how beneficial that is perceived to be for his own culture.

Edward Thomas

Tesco’s aggression against rural towns

Chris Blackhurst (27 September) notes that Tesco “for years… maintained an aggressive, cold, superior stance where the media, City, politicians and suppliers are concerned” but omits communities. What about Tesco’s constant and unforgiving, unfeeling, planning applications, over many years, for new stores in the rural market towns of this country, often against significant local opposition?

Chris Lynch
Halesworth, Suffolk

Ordinary customers of Tesco and others like myself inexperienced in the ways of big business must have rubbed their eyes after reading, in your Business section report (27 September), about “payments Tesco demands from its suppliers” with further references to “revenues from suppliers” and “supplier income”. Money flowing in this direction will come as news to many.

Alan Bunting
Harpenden, Hertfordshire


What’s Yasmin’s plan for the middle east?

I don’t honestly know whether the bombing of Iraq and Syria will defeat Isis, but something clearly must be done. What I do know is I am fed up with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (29 September) et al saying it won’t work and is wrong without stating what they would do. Perhaps The Independent could take the lead and insist that half of any article critical of the bombings be given over to the author’s alternative plan?

Steve Brewer

The Ryder cup calls out for reform

Following the US’s third Ryder Cup defeat in succession and their eighth loss in the past 10 tournaments, isn’t it about time that they were replaced by a Rest of the World team capable of standing up to the prowess of the mighty Europeans (just as Team Europe replaced Great Britain and Ireland in 1979 when the latter were unable to challenge the Americans)?

Patrick Walsh


Far from Britain having a lazy and parochial opinion of the past, it has learnt to take the long view

Sir, I am surprised at John Jungclaussen’s view that Britain’s view of the past is “lazy and parochial” (“Germany has moved on. Why haven’t you?” Opinion, Sept 27). My constituency is home to the German war cemetery on Cannock Chase, which young people from Germany and Britain have worked together for 50 years to maintain. We certainly appreciate that the Great War was a catastrophe for all, just as much for Germans who lie in that cemetery as for those of all other nationalities in cemeteries around the globe.

If Mr Jungclaussen had listened to Friday’s debate about Iraq in the Commons, he would have understood the sense of unease about Britain’s role in both the recent past (2003) and the more distant past (the Sykes-Picot “line in the sand”). There was little that was “selective and one-dimensional”.

Mr Jungclaussen says his British friends are in a “permanent state of astonishment” at Angela Merkel’s achievements. They are obviously too young to have known about Konrad Adenauer, Willy Brandt, Helmut Schmidt or Helmut Kohl, all of whom I recall as being widely respected within the UK. Mrs Merkel is simply the latest in a line of impressive German chancellors.

In July I was privileged to sing in a performance of Mendelssohn’s great Lobgesang with the choirs of the UK and German parliaments. It marked two anniversaries — the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War and 300 years since the Hanover dynasty ascended to the British throne. If that initiative is an indication that, as Mr Jungclaussen charges, “the British [are] too lazy to take the long view of history”, I fear that he will never be persuaded.

Jeremy Lefroy
MP for Stafford, House of Commons

Sir, It is not so surprising that the British admire Angela Merkel. She is an academic scientist who has had a proper job, is a linguist and a statesman. Sadly, not many of our politicians have even one of these attributes.
Barry Mellor
London N7

Sir, Very little has been said or written about the tercentenary of “the arrival of the German Georges on the British throne”, to which John Jungclaussen referred. The centenary of the First World War has inspired many books; not one has appeared to mark the Hanoverian succession 300 years on. It was not even mentioned in the brief history of Anglo-German relations that you published on September 23. This neglect is extremely regrettable.

The arrival of George I, a soldier- statesman respected across the Continent, put an end to the longest and most destructive period of party political strife in British history. The Whigs triumphed in the general election of 1715, creating an era of political stability marked by a surge of wealth and prosperity. The defeat of the Tories also paved the way for a reduction in the power and pretensions of its close ally, the Church of England, which had been responsible for years of religious intolerance.

It is not too late to make amends. Having arrived at Greenwich on September 18, 1714 , the new monarch was crowned on October 20 in a frugal ceremony at Westminster Abbey that cost £5,000.
Lord Lexden
House of Lords

Sir, It always amuses me to read the latest article claiming that Germany has moved on and Britain should follow suit. The latest proponent, John Jungclaussen, was right to suggest that “the collective memory of a nation is inevitably coloured by emotion”. As his compatriot Maurice Halbwachs demonstrated, collective memory is also more often the product of the re-interpretation of past events within the social frameworks of the present than the restoration of any intrinsic meaning these events might hold within themselves. In short, they tell us as much about ourselves as those we remember. We see that again here. Note the sensitivity about the causes of the First World War — a conflict precipitated by German aggression but carefully reframed into a “global war of unparalleled scale” — the collective sense of “achievement” at the fall of the Wall, which is shared by one half of Germany (the former West Germany) but not so much the other (the former East Germany), or the age-old German insecurities over Russian aggression.

All of which suggests that the war Jungclaussen is fighting is not the one he thinks it is; the “annoying, slightly ignorant friend” might be someone altogether more familiar to Jungclaussen than he would otherwise wish.
Daniel James
London SE1

Sir, How lucky for the “lazy, ignorant and annoying” British that whenever we fail to see the world in a proper historical perspective there is always a German Besserwisser to set us straight. The headline to Mr. Jungclaussen’s article states “Germany has moved on”. Evidently, not in every respect.
Alan Sked
Professor of International History, LSE

Sir, Having been married to a German lady for many years I read with interest the feature in Times2 (Sept 29) about becoming a German — until, that is, I saw the picture caption. The “Oktoberfest” has nothing to do with the month of the year (it actually starts in September) but is to do with the place on which it is held. This is the “Oktoberwiese”, which translates as the October Pasture — relating to its origins when the Fest was held on a field.
Alan W West
Burntwood, Staffs

Sir, Neil MacGregor says that 100 years ago “We’d all have read German at school or university . . . we would know about Germany — and all that stopped after 1945” (Sept 23). When I went to grammar school in 1946, German was on the first year’s timetable, and was enjoyed by the class. Music lessons were even more enjoyable, as we all sang Röslein, Röslein, Röslein rot and other German lieder at the piano, which gave me an abiding love of Schubert, lieder, and German culture and history. I recently made a pilgrimage to Bach’s Thomaskirche in Leipzig to lay sunflowers on his grave in gratitude for a lifetime’s pleasure, which had its beginnings in that postwar classroom.
William Stacey
Malvern, Worcs

The Barbican gave way to the protesters over Exhibit B. What does this mean for the future?

Sir, Sir Nicholas Kenyon’s reply (Sept 29) to criticism of the Barbican’s cancellation of the superb Exhibit B tells us that if protesters resort to violence they will prevail. From here it is a short route to mob rule — no, it is mob rule. What is the Metropolitan Police’s response? We read of no arrests, just as there were no arrests in Edinburgh when a violent rabble similarly suppressed a play.

Who is fighting freedom of expression’s corner?

Simon Callow

London N1

Forget the much-hyped mansion tax, it’s council tax banding that is crying out for reform

Sir, The palaver over a mansion tax is an all too convenient distraction for our mainstream parties (“A Bad Tax”, Sept 27). Meanwhile, council tax is crying out for reform. The answer is more bands (or better still, a set percentage of the value of the property) and a long overdue revaluation (the last was in 1991).

Yugo Kovach

Winterborne Houghton, Dorset

If you are actually eating your meal rather than using your phone, you are in a minority, it would seem

Sir, My wife and I recently enjoyed a week in Majorca where we dined in a series of restaurants. For my amusement, I conducted an informal survey during the week and discovered that seven out of ten couples used their phones while at least one of them was still eating (“iPhone madness is driving me round the bend”, Opinion, Sept 27).

Bernard Kingston

Biddenden, Kent

Is George Osborne’s latest proposal, to scrap ‘punitive’ levies on pensions, fair or unfair?

Sir, Inheritance tax is unfair, its critics argue. It gives rise to double taxation: earnings and interest are taxed, saved, and then taxed again on death.

I wonder if such people will trumpet the unfairness of George Osborne’s latest proposals (Sept 29) whereby those fortunate enough to have spare earnings can place them untaxed into certain untaxed pension plans — and then, on death, pass them untaxed to beneficiaries — whereas those who need all their earnings just to get by with daily living will have no such tax benefits.

Peter Cave

London W1

The success of independent schools ‘is much more attributable to their culture and organisation than to money’

Sir, Richard Harman (Thunderer, Sept 29) is surely right to call for greater appreciation of the success of independent schools, which is much more attributable to their culture and organisation than to money as such.

While Sir Michael Wilshaw generally appears to be doing a good job at Ofsted, he is wrong on academy sponsorship. There is no reason to require independent schools’ charitable efforts to be channelled in one specific direction. We should resist the steady “nationalisation” of the functions of private bodies such as schools, universities, charities and other elements of civil society. We should also bear in mind that every parent who privately schools their children — and it is they who would ultimately pay for compulsory academy sponsorship — is saving taxpayers thousands of pounds that can be put to other uses, including the state schools which should be Ofsted’s concern.

JR Shackleton

Professor of Economics,

University of Buckingham


Around 60,000 people suffer a cardiac arrest outside hospital every year Photo: Alamy

6:57AM BST 29 Sep 2014


SIR – A senior doctor has encouraged paramedics to treat patients in cardiac arrest at the scene rather than attempt to rush them into emergency rooms (report, September 24).

It is sadly the case that many people do not even survive long enough for paramedics to intervene; around 60,000 people suffer a cardiac arrest outside hospital every year. The skills that may mean the difference between life and death can be acquired in a couple of hours by attending a Heartstart course.

This initiative of the British Heart Foundation teaches emergency life-saving skills, including cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and the correct use of an automated external defibrillator (AED).

The British Heart Foundation website ( gives details of Heartstart and includes a map showing where the schemes are available.

Jill Channing
Guildford, Surrey

Royal etiquette

SIR – My putative ancestor Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, once got his ears boxed by Queen Elizabeth I.

I hope this provides a suitable precedent when David Cameron apologises to our present Queen for his recent “purring” gaffe.

Tony Devereux
Theydon Bois, Essex

SIR – I am surely not alone in thinking that the curtsy is about the ugliest manner with which a lady might show respect to the Queen.

In the days of crinoline and ankle-length dresses it had a certain elegance; but with the current fashion of knee-length dresses, such grace is quite impossible. Even Zara Phillips greeting her grandmother – and Zara would probably be more accomplished than most – gave the appearance of an incipient collapse at the finishing line after a rather gruelling marathon.

J M Reid
Reading, Berkshire

Ta ta for now

SIR – I recently received an unsolicited phone call from the Royal Mint, and in signing off, the caller said, “Laters”.

Where do such meaningless phrases come from, and why is it that so many people embrace them so readily?

John Ley-Morgan
Weston-super-Mare, Somerset

Votes for 16-year-olds

SIR – Proposals from centre-Left parties to lower the voting age to 16 are motivated by self-interest.

One argument put forward by proponents is that lowering the voting age will encourage young people to take more of an interest in political matters. Yet there is nothing to indicate this from general election voting patterns, which consistently show that the younger age groups are less likely to vote than others. Although this was not the case for the referendum on Scottish independence, participation was exceptionally high across all age groups.

Under British law, 16- and 17-year-olds are not mature enough to face adult prosecution in the courts. Why then should they be deemed mature enough to choose our next government?

George Paterson
London W5

Protest at the Barbican

SIR – Bonnie Greer is completely right when she says how regrettable it is that protesters prevented audiences from engaging with the important issues about race and history raised by the installation Exhibit B.

However, she would be wrong to think the Barbican caved in to the mob. We had engaged with the protesters, met with their leaders, understood their concerns, taken part in an independent public discussion and agreed their right to protest peacefully. When the protest turned violent at the opening performances, it was impossible to guarantee the safety of our performers, staff and audience.

Bonnie Greer was not denied the chance to see this show by the Barbican; she was denied it by those who went beyond the limits of reasonable protest.

Sir Nicholas Kenyon
Managing Director, Barbican Centre
London EC2

MPs in residence

SIR – If the old War Office building in Whitehall is to be converted into attractive flats (report, September 23), would it not be more sensible for it to remain in Crown ownership rather than being sold to a developer, and for the flats to be offered to MPs from outside London as their Westminster base?

This would be convenient for them, and would greatly reduce their expenses.

Oliver Barratt
Crosthwaite, Cumbria

In-flight irritants

SIR – Reading that airline passengers will soon be able to use their mobile phones throughout flights, my first reaction was relief that I do not have to fly any more.

The thought of someone next to me saying “Oh I’m on a plane to Abu Dhabi, I’m just about to eat a sandwich” is horrifying. At least on a bus or train you can move to another seat.

Charles Hopkins
London W10

A long line of tradition

SIR – Robert Parker (Letters, September 26), in lamenting the demise of the glass milk bottle, asks whether there are any great British traditions left.

There is a simple answer to that question: the ability to queue peacefully.

Ian Dorey

SIR – One seems eternal: nostalgia.

Sally Lawton
Kirtlington, Oxfordshire

Paying tribute to the sacrifices of the war dead

SIR – Carol Harrington’s suggestion that the Tower of London poppies be left for visitors to admire for a few months after November 11 (Letters, September 27) prompts me to ask your readers whether there is an etiquette on the removal of wreaths and similar tributes.

For 10 years I walked daily from Charing Cross to Westminster, past memorials to the RAF, Royal Tank Regiment, Gurkhas and many others. Each year I saw wreaths become sodden and faded as the weeks passed; inked dedications blur to illegibility; real flowers fall apart, and plastic ones become spattered with dust and dirt.

Would it not be more fitting to arrange for such tributes to be removed after a fixed period by those who laid them?

Victor Launert
Matlock Bath, Derbyshire

SIR – In all the coverage of the outbreak of the First World War, I have seen scarcely any reference to the remarkable record of the highly professional old British Army – the Old Contemptibles of the Kaiser’s dismissive phrase.

To summon the Reserve and get the British Expeditionary Force to Belgium and into battle within almost three weeks of the declaration of war was an astonishing achievement. For the British, the story of what followed is the inspiring if sometimes hair-raising story of Mons, Le Cateau, the retreat to and subsequent Battle of the Marne, and then 1st Ypres. The story deserves to be celebrated – especially in this particular year.

To declare my personal interest, my maternal grandfather was a reservist with the 1st Hampshires, which came into the line at Le Cateau on August 24. He served through the subsequent campaigns and was killed at 2nd Ypres in the summer of 1915. His name is on the Menin Gate.

William Packer
London SW9

Strictly civil: a couple tie the knot in the town hall of Cahors, south-western France  Photo: REMY GABALDA/AFP/Getty Images

6:59AM BST 29 Sep 2014


SIR – You report that sham same-sex marriages were on offer just weeks after the law was changed.

The Government knows perfectly well that the marriage laws of this country, already the most lax in Europe, are now abused far more widely than admitted: yet politicians continue to make the marriage visa and all the rights and privileges it bestows ever easier to obtain.

Rather than continuing to tinker at the edges of this problem, it is time for policy-makers to introduce universal civil marriage.

This would enable marriages here to be controlled by fully trained officials who would make the legal record and issue the legal documentation. Couples would then be free to add any marriage ceremony, religious or secular, of their choosing.

John Ribbins
Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Sir John Chilcot: the inquiry cost £1.5 million in the last financial year, but is yet to publish its findings Photo: Getty Images

7:00AM BST 29 Sep 2014


SIR – When the Iraq inquiry was set up, Sir John Chilcot explained: “We will … be considering the UK’s involvement in Iraq, including the way decisions were made and actions taken, to establish, as accurately as possible, what happened and to identify the lessons that can be learnt.”

Never have the conclusions of that inquiry been more needed. And yet, other than reporting that the inquiry cost £1.5 million in the last financial year – including £196,000 for “IT and telecommunications” – there has been no update since May.

It may be too much to expect the Prime Minister to learn from history, but it would be helpful to many if the inquiry’s deliberations could be concluded and its report published without further procrastination.

Adrian Scrope
Hungerford, Berkshire

SIR – It seems our ruling elite has not learnt the lesson of the Second Gulf War.

To say that Isil poses a threat to world peace is absurd. They are barely a Third World state, with little military power and even less industrial might. They are not another Soviet Union or Nazi Germany.

Western intervention will just make things worse. A few thousand Islamic extremists are no match for 36 million Iraqis if they choose to stand up to them.

Mike Banyard
Charlton Adam, Somerset

SIR – The emotional argument for going to war to defeat Isil was aired and accepted by Parliament. The few lone dissenters had strong arguments, but they were ignored.

The theory of winning a ground campaign by air power has severe limitations. It has been done before by the RAF in Iraq during the Thirties, but then there was a strong ground element working in tandem. There has been no suggestion that the Iraqi ground forces are up to such a task.

Here was the opportunity for an Arab coalition to fight their own battle, albeit with Western guidance behind the scenes. Instead we will make the same mistakes again, with the same consequences for our homeland security.

Philip Congdon
La Bastide d’Engras, Gard, France

SIR – How sad it is that our only response to the Isil threat is what will undoubtedly be a futile bombing campaign. The inevitable killing of civilians seems a strange way to defeat terrorists.

Charles Holden
Lymington, Hampshire

SIR – The Western media, together with David Cameron, are stating that we are now at war with Isil.

A state of war has a precise meaning under international law. In particular, it can only be declared on another nation state. To connect the term with a terrorist organisation is to accord Isil a status that it craves but absolutely does not merit.

Roger Smith

Irish Times:

Sir, – I am both saddened and encouraged to see Ireland finally exploring the concept of living wages (Carl O’Brien, “The living wage”, Weekend Review, September 27th). As a recently returned emigrant from Vancouver, Canada, where I was a living wage campaign organiser for the last five years, I have seen at first hand the negative consequences that increased low-wage poverty has on all members of society, not just the low paid.

We all lose out due to less money circulating in our local businesses, increased child poverty and homelessness, requiring more costly state supports and eroded community and civic bonds as more people work multiple jobs. This ultimately threatens our future prosperity; as the OECD has concluded, “failure to tackle poverty and exclusion . . . is not only socially reprehensible, but it will also weigh heavily on countries’ capacity to sustain economic growth in years to come”.

However, while working on the living wage campaign I was encouraged by the many local and international business I engaged with in Vancouver that recognised the value of paying a living wage and were willing to pay it to all their staff, including contracted service staff.

The US federal government and many local authorities in the UK are also coming up with innovative ways to ensure that no worker receives poverty pay on taxpayer-funded projects contracted to the private sector. There is no reason why the same can’t happen in Ireland. This makes sound economic sense; in 2009 Goldman Sachs reported that increasing the income of people with lower wages has a proportionately larger stimulating effect on the economy than increasing the income of those with high incomes. – Yours, etc,




Co Meath.

Sir, – Fintan O’Toole (“Death by a thousand cuts – the terrible way we treat our national library and national museum”, September 27th) has highlighted the pernicious impact of unprecedented fiscal retrenchment on many of Ireland’s most important national museums.

A partial solution to this problem could surely be addressed by replicating admission charges levied by similar state-owned museums and galleries throughout most of Europe. With continued free access for students, pensioners, and the unemployed, the introduction of an annual “national museum rebate” for domiciled taxpayers should ensure that the bulk of this new charge falls on overseas visitors rather than Irish residents, and remains compatible with EU law.

While similar admission charges for Dublin tourists to that paid by Irish visitors in Paris, Berlin and Rome will not fully account for Government cutbacks, at the very least it should more than finance the National Library’s absent water sprinkler facility, as identified by Mr O’Toole. – Yours, etc,


Sanderstrasse, Berlin.

Sir, – Already depressed by Fintan O’Toole’s account of neglect of the National Library of Ireland and the other national cultural institutions in the Weekend Review, I turned to the Magazine in search of light relief and was shocked to see a photo, apparently taken in a library, showing a woman clad in high stiletto heels, balancing on twin stacks of books while dangling another book by its front cover (“Fashion – Fantasy meets finery”). Use of a cultural resource to boost a person’s profile in this manner can mean only one thing – this model is standing for the Seanad. – Yours, etc,



Co Wicklow.

Tue, Sep 30, 2014, 01:09

First published: Tue, Sep 30, 2014, 01:09

Sir, – This debacle may prove to be a significant watershed in Irish politics. I am heartened to note that individual Fine Gael TDs had the gumption to stand up and question their leader’s judgment in this sorry matter.

Is it too much to hope that more TDs would summon up the courage to put moral principle before blind loyalty to party? – Yours, etc,


Crosthwaite Park South,

Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin.

Sir, – I read that Enda Kenny has taking responsibility for this “having evolved to what people imagine it is” (“Kenny apologises over McNulty debacle”, Front Page, September 27th). I would love him to enlighten us as to precisely what we are imagining?

Does Mr Kenny think this entire nation floated down on the last cloud? The very least he could do, as Taoiseach, is to afford its people a modicum of respect and courtesy.

As for his party colleagues supporting him and complimenting him on his “honesty” and “putting his hands up”, I know exactly which party I will not be voting for at the next election. No doubt there are many like me who foolishly believed that the Fine Gael party offered us a way forward and would step out of the shadowy world of dirty politics. I should have known better! – Yours, etc,


St Assam’s Avenue,

Raheny, Dublin 5.

Sir, – The best little country in the world in which to do penance. – Yours, etc,


Belton Terrace,

Bray, Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Arthur Beesley reports that Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has decided to continue with the levy on private pension funds, which had been due to expire this year “Levy on private pensions set to exceed €2 billion”, Business and Technology, September 25th).

Even by the standards of politicians, this is an act of blatant cynicism. Mr Noonan and his Government colleagues are relying on the calculation that the lobby against this levy is not large and vociferous. We have heard less about it than about the comparatively minor matter of the water charges.

At the same time, thousands of people have been affected by the levy. On a personal note, my pension went down by nearly €800 last year because of the levy. I can live with this, but I shouldn’t have to, having paid into this pension for over 40 years. And it is likely that thousands – a silent minority – have been affected around the country. Is there any guarantee that the Minister will not establish the levy as a permanent fixture? Like the pernicious universal social charge?

I do, incidentally, recall a senior member of the present Government asserting in tones of lofty morality that they would never take money from people’s savings.

Has the Attorney General ever been asked to rule on the legality of this levy? – Yours, etc,


Avondale Road,

Killiney, Co Dublin.

Sir, – Diarmaid Ferriter (“‘What if’ history can lead to distortion of past by current political prejudices”, Opinion & Analysis, September 27th) depicts John Bruton’s celebration of John Redmond as an example of “counterfactual history” gone awry.

He reads it an example of conservatives, “driven by a contemporary agenda”, seeking to “rewrite history according to their present-day political purposes and prejudices” and to “lament the passing of the great old order, an order sabotaged by liberals and leftist rabbles”.

In an attempt to minimise the role of parliamentary nationalists, Prof Ferriter makes much of the fact that many of them were returned unopposed to parliament in the 1910 election in which universal franchise had not been extended. But in the celebrated 1918 election with a greatly enlarged franchise, when Sinn Féin replaced the parliamentary nationalists as the dominant political force in Ireland, many of the victors were also returned unopposed and the lack of opposition was in no small part a consequence of intimidation.

Perhaps a clearer picture of the wishes of the Irish people was the polling in June 1922 for the third Dáil when, even in spite of an abortive attempt to control the outcome with a proportionate distribution of places to the rival factions of the incumbent Sinn Féiners, the cause of the peace settlement, that is, the Treaty, showed decisively Ireland’s adherence since to constitutionalism, even if some followed a “slightly constitutional” path. It should bear out Mr Bruton’s celebration of Redmond as a more authentic example of the Irish political disposition than the “minority of a minority” that staged the 1916 uprising. – Yours, etc,


Professor Emeritus

of History,

Fordham University,

New York.

Sir, – I fail to understand why Dr Brian P Murphy (September 27th) feels that “just rebellion” theory is not applicable to Ireland in 1916. Another distinguished priest-historian thought otherwise.

In a Thomas Davis lecture delivered in 1966, Prof FX Martin of UCD wrote as follows: “Many have wrestled with the problem of formulating a justification for the Easter Rising, but they have not found it an easy task . . . The traditional conditions required for lawful revolt seem at first sight, and even at second, to be absent in 1916. Firstly, the government must be a tyranny, that is without a legitimate title to rule the country. And there are four further conditions – the impossibility of removing the tyranny except by armed force, a proportion between the evil caused and that to be removed by the revolt, serious probability of success, and finally the approval of the community as a whole”.

It is a matter for legitimate debate whether even one of these conditions was met in 1916, and John Bruton is therefore fully justified in raising the issue. – Yours, etc,


Vale View Lawn,


Dublin 18.

Sir, – Desmond Fitzgerald (September 29th) lectures us on the mess we have made of our sovereignty, economically and socially, since we liberated ourselves, bloodily, from British rule. Seemingly, we would have been set free without a single nosebleed if we had waited a while! He is right of, course. This land flowed with milk and honey during the centuries when we nursed at the ample breasts of Mother Blighty. A million people did not die and another million did not emigrate during the mythical Great Famine. The peasants lived comfortably, illiteracy was unheard of and there was plenty of hot soup for secessionists. What fools we were to give it all up! – Yours, etc,



Tralee, Co Kerry.

Sir, – In her article “Revised children and family proposals fail to tackle tangled web of family life” (Opinion & Analysis, September 27th), Breda O’Brien is simply incorrect in her assertion that the revised general scheme of the Children and Family Relationships Bill 2014 appears to ignore the Supreme Court’s decision in the landmark 2009 case of McD v L. The revised general scheme fully adheres to that ruling because, under its provisions, a same-sex civil partner will not have greater rights than a biological father where her civil partner self-inseminates at home with sperm from a known donor and ultimately gives birth to a child.

This was the case in McD v L and like the biological father in that case, known donors will continue to be able to apply for guardianship and access rights in relation to a child conceived in this manner because the assisted reproduction provisions only enable same-sex civil partners to be treated as the parents of the child where the child was conceived “in a hospital or clinic which provides fertility services”. – Yours, etc,


Lecturer in Law,

School of Law, NUI Galway.

Sir, – I may be wrong. I must be wrong, with so many audience members standing cheering at the end, but unlike them and your reviewer Peter Crawley (“The most dangerous Hamlet ever?”, September 29th), I hated every one of the 165 minutes (no interval) of Schaubühne’s Hamlet at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Dublin.

For me the production was tacky, tasteless, self-indulgent and, worst of all, tedious in the extreme. One particularly horrible moment was when Hamlet picked on an old guy in the audience and harangued him until he stood up. “You don’t still believe in the fourth wall, do you?”, the actor jeered. He then proceeded to mock him for wearing a bag over his shoulder. “What is that? Is it a man bag?” And on and on.

If the idea was to show Hamlet as a total shit, then Schaubühne succeeded admirably; but oh, the poor poetry, murdered along with everything else. – Yours, etc,


Croydon Green,

A chara, – If Ireland is to become a smoke-free society, there are some simple solutions we need to begin with.

Organisations spend a lot of time and money developing strong relationships with their customers. Therefore, it is such a pity that the first and last interaction many customers have when visiting offices in Ireland is to have to inhale second-hand carcinogenic smoke from their employees who have gathered at or near the entrances to their main buildings.

Whether it’s retail premises, governmental offices, embassies, or major banking and insurance firms, the problem is the same. Companies are often trying to be market leaders and set good standards, and so a prime example would be to stop this poor practice, which will seem so obvious when it’s gone. It’s an easy one to fix. – Is mise,


Blood Stoney Road,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – Reflecting on Breda O’Brien’s piece on the miracle of Lourdes (“Lourdes pilgrimage a miracle of service and selflessness”, Opinion & Analysis, September 20th), I too have just returned from there, with the Kerry diocesan pilgrimage. The highlights for me were the diligence, kindness and maturity of the students and young adults alike.

While there I could not help but wonder why only men – single and celibate men, the youngest of whom was 50 – are the only people considered competent to say Mass, lead the rosary, bless the sick (and the trinkets bought in vast quantities) and hear confessions. And to a mainly female congregation, I might add.

Women, single or married, and married men, given the proper training, would be equal to the job, in my opinion. That would be the real miracle for me. – Yours, etc,


Killarney, Co Kerry.

Sir, – Budget 2015 presents a crucial opportunity to support a real and sustainable recovery – but only if the right choices are made. As the first post-austerity budget, there is much clamouring about which area deserves some respite. Business interests have been loud and clear about what they want – tax cuts for higher incomes. Yet Social Justice Ireland research indicates a decrease in the top tax rate would benefit higher earners only. What would we be saying about our values as a society if we ignored the plight of those catastrophically neglected during the recession and now left behind by the first green shoots of recovery?

One in 10 children in Ireland lives on a low income and without access to basic necessities, according to the latest figures.

Barnardos and the Society of St Vincent de Paul work directly with families who have borne the brunt of the cuts imposed during the recession. They have seen their benefits whittled down, while access to essential services such as healthcare and education has been reduced due to funding cutbacks.

This is the real impact of seven years of austerity measures and efforts to reverse this frankly shaming statistic must be at the forefront of any so-called recovery. Budget 2015 decisions must aim to reverse the damage done to too many families and instead seek to build a long-term, sustainable recovery for the whole of society. – Yours, etc,



Christchurch Square,

Dublin 8;



Society of St Vincent de Paul,

Sean MacDermott Street,

Dublin 1.

Sir, – Those who object to religious teaching in schools are surely ignoring the power of inoculation. It worked a treat with our two. – Yours, etc,




Co Offaly.

Sir, – I cannot have been the only pupil who looked forward to religion classes as one of the few beacons in a day filled with the crushing tedium of maths and science classes. Crusading atheists, spare a thought for the children! – Yours, etc,


Stamer Street,

Dublin 8.

Irish Independent:

Budget 2015 presents a crucial opportunity to support a real and sustainable recovery – but only if the right choices are made.

As it’s the first post-austerity Budget, there is much clamouring about which area deserves some respite. Business interests have been loud and clear about what they want: tax cuts for higher incomes.

Yet Social Justice Ireland research indicates a decrease in the top tax rate would benefit higher earners only.

What would we be saying about our values as a society if we ignore the plight of those catastrophically neglected during the recession and now left behind by the first green shoots of recovery?

One in 10 children in Ireland live on a low income and without access to basic necessities, according to the latest figures.

Barnardos and the Society of St Vincent de Paul work directly with families who have borne the brunt of the cuts imposed during the recession. They have seen their benefits whittled down, while access to essential services like healthcare and education has been reduced due to funding cutbacks.

This is the real impact of seven years of austerity measures and efforts to reverse this frankly shameful statistic must be at the forefront of any so-called ‘recovery Budget’.

Budget 2015 decisions must aim to reverse the damage done to too many families and instead seek to build a long-term, sustainable recovery for the whole of society.

Fergus Finlay, Barnardos, Christchurch Square, Dublin 8. John-Mark McCafferty, Society of St Vincent de Paul, Sean MacDermott Street, Dublin 1

The familiar whiff of cronyism

It seems that the old, familiar whiff of political cronyism has caught up with us again.

The Taoiseach’s rather clumsy attempt to fit a ‘friendly’ into a Seanad seat, with all the sophistication of an ageing, past-it prizefighter, should be seen as a proverbial mine-canary, keeling over at the mouth of Irish democracy. But it won’t be. Instead, too many will shrug their shoulders with an “ah sure, aren’t they all the same?”

Too often, we view such ‘stroking’ as a perk of political office. Worse still, I fear, too many political representatives view ‘getting one past’ onlookers as a show of political machismo, or even through that peculiar Irish lens of ‘cute-hoorism’.

However, the stroke the Taoiseach has perpetrated, in pressing a newly appointed cabinet minister into doing his bidding, on the way to placing another patsy into parliament, should be seen as the very kind of behaviour that has tainted Irish public life since the foundation of the State.

The greatest malaise of all doesn’t come in the form of dramatic actions, but rather, to coin a phrase, through a thousand crony actions, which will eventually combine and give us our next, predictable, generational economic collapse.

Declan Doyle, Lisdowney, Co Kilkenny


Climate change is a genuine threat

Ian O’Doherty in his piece ‘Selling myths and taxes to a frightened world’ (Irish Independent, September 26) once again concedes that climate change is a reality but equivocates as to its cause.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its 2014 report concludes that human activity is extremely likely to have adversely affected our climate on a planetary scale.

The hundreds of geophysicists that compiled this report are not zealots or fundamentalists in the religious sense of the word. They couch their arguments in unemotive, clinical, scientific terms, endeavouring to peer into our meteorological future, not our souls.

These scientists genuinely strive to predict trends and establish facts. They do not peddle ‘myths’ or casually alarm the global public.

Why should we be so sceptical of the same scientific establishment that has created the wonderful, high-tech civilization we enjoy? An establishment we normally profess such confidence in.

If we ignore its warnings or deny its findings we are conniving in an ecological catastrophe.

We will be complicit in a moral crime against posterity through apathy and the consequent inertia that O’Doherty’s cynical attitude entails.

On the issue of climate change and how we must address it, I am unashamedly a zealot, a fanatic, a proselytizer. In the face of an existential threat to humanity, I feel it would be inhuman to be otherwise.

Kieran Rogers, Dundalk, Co Louth


Doomsday headlines

Back in June you ran a headline: ‘Half of the emperor penguins could be wiped out by the end of the century due to melting sea ice.’

But nowhere in your paper do you mention that on September 19 this year, the five-day average ice extent in the Antarctic surpassed 20 million square kilometres (7.72 million square miles) for the first time in the 33-year satellite record. No doubt if the sea ice was decreasing, we would hear all about it in doomsday banner headlines.

I’m not for or against either side of the climate change debate but just looking for balanced reporting in an area where wrong decisions could have catastrophic effects on our own and the global economy.

Fintan Ryan, Borris, Co Carlow


Darwinism is just a theory

The increasing debate concerning creation vs evolution has been heating up worldwide. I find this wonderful, as Darwin only presented a “theory” and Intelligent Design is hard to fathom.

When faithfully following Darwin’s line of thought, Darwin’s modern-day disciples contradict his own theoretical reasonings!

Man has always been one of the most populous ‘animals’ in the world, and, is said to have migrated out of Africa and around the world. Where, then, is the trail of skeletal/fossil remains of the many “missing links” in all the various stages of transition, from ape to man?

When you consider the vast tracts of land sadly being cleared today, and areas being re-developed, and all the incredible modern detection and analytical technologies available, why haven’t all the “missing links” been discovered in great quantities?

The truth is that neither Darwinism nor Intelligent Design can be scientifically proven.

Howard Hutchins, Victoria, Australia


Hyperbole and trouser mishaps

The Taoiseach should know that when you are caught with your pants down the last thing you should do is to hold your hand up.

If you do it too often, people will inevitably notice that your pants are still down.

He should also try to avoid the hyperbole that can arise from using the word “outstanding”.

There are thousands of people in the country with similar backgrounds to the unfortunate Mr McNulty.

At best, the word is “appropriate”, not “outstanding”.

John F Jordan, Killiney, Co Dublin


The taxpayer must pay – again

In response to Simon O’Connor’s letter (Irish Independent, September 29) regarding the lack of care for the water infrastructure here over the past many years, I would like to remind everyone that the general public bear no blame for this.

Taxes were paid but the decision to ignore water services and many other urgent needs was made by successive governments, who preferred to spend on items which boosted their own profiles and pockets.

Yet again, the taxpaying public is being made to pay for their folly.

Avril Hedderman,  Stillorgan, Co Dublin

Irish Independent


September 29, 2014

29 September 2014 Sunday

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day pottering.

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down duck for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.


Dannie Abse – obituary

Dannie Abse was a poet and doctor who brought an instinctive blend of clarity, care and conviction to both callings

Dannie Abse in 2013

Dannie Abse in 2013 Photo: Clara Molden

6:58PM BST 28 Sep 2014


Dannie Abse, who has died aged 91, was a poet, novelist, playwright and doctor whose blend of myth, clinical clarity and political conviction did much to revitalise poetry after the Second World War.

The academic Daniel Hoffman catalogued Abse’s contradictions, saying that he was “British/Jewish, English/Welsh, seeker/sceptic, bourgeois/bohemian, poet/doctor”. More neatly, Abse saw himself as “way out in the centre” and, scientist that he was, explained this precisely. While others argued that poets should consider their subjects first, and their readers second, Abse mocked their stance by writing, “where’s the avant-garde when the procession / runs continuously in a closed circle?” If he was writing about Auschwitz, Soho, Ezra Pound or tumours, he would say so.

He would examine his feelings about Britain almost instinctively, so that a poem about a train station is called “Not Adlestrop”, to register his distance from Edward Thomas’s Georgian lyric about that station; and a poem about anti-Semitism, is written in a brisk and British ballad form. Wales was dear to him but, although he admired Dylan Thomas’s poetry, he was quick to ditch him as an influence. (On a visit to New York, Abse became fed up with being told how much he wrote, sounded and looked like Thomas, and was able to assert that he didn’t.)

His careers as poet and doctor were intertwined, although it is possible to read his work and understand why he did not become a surgeon. Of his initial failures in the pathology exams, he wrote, “there were times when I wanted to run away from the desolation of suffering and death.” “Lunch with a Pathologist” shows a properly poetic squeamishness at too much talk of tissues and decomposition. But in later poems, such as “Carnal Knowledge”, he allowed himself more room to consider the link between the corpses he had dissected as a student and their inner humanity. He once said that if someone is next door to Icarus when he falls, “it’s a doctor’s response if he goes next door; it’s a poet’s response if he makes a poem out of it. And if he’s a poet and a doctor, he must do both.”

Dannie Abse was born in Cardiff on September 22, 1923, to Rudolf and Kate (née Shepherd). His father ran cinemas, which he part-owned, in South Wales. Dannie was the youngest of four children. Of his siblings, Wilfred Abse would distinguish himself as a psychiatrist, and Leo Abse became the MP who broke the record for putting the most laws into the statute books (including the decriminalisation of homosexuality).

Dannie, whom the others saw as the athlete in the family, would acknowledge that it was Leo who made his poetry more political, by bringing home poems that were “not about celandines, and not about skylarks, but about the war in Spain”. It was the poetry of that conflict that first made him see the potential of poetry to be a force for change.

As if to add to the oddities that contributed to his upbringing, he went to St Illtyd’s College, a working-class Catholic school in Splott, Cardiff, run by Christian Brothers. His sporting skills made him popular there. After a brief time at Cardiff University, he studied medicine at King’s College, London, and Westminster Hospital. He would recall that he spent more time playing football than studying, and later learned that he might not have made the college’s First Eleven had the captain realised that he was Jewish. Abse continued to write poetry, and was encouraged by some warm words from Edmund Blunden, whom he had cornered after a reading. Abse’s life at this time is the subject of his two autobiographical novels, Ash on a Young Man’s Sleeve (1954) and O. Jones, O. Jones (1970), as well as a warm and self-deprecating memoir, A Poet in the Family (1974).

Dannie Abse at Dylan Thomas’s boathouse, Laugharne, in 2003 (PAUL GOGARTY)

Towards the end of the war, he joined a group of medical students who volunteered to help when there was a shortage of doctors. When others were sent to help at a camp abandoned by the Germans, he was omitted from the selection. He later discovered that this was Belsen. He wrote: “Auschwitz has made me more of a Jew than Moses did.”

It was at this time that his first book was published. Even Abse’s admirers consider After Every Green Thing (1949) to be emotionally overwrought, ringing with the loud music of Dylan Thomas; Abse felt this at the time, and later said that most of the poems in it were “linguistically florid and faulty”. The poems lacked political urgency, he felt, because the shocks of Hiroshima and Auschwitz led briefly to the irrelevance of “the gesturing poem, the platform poem”.

He quickly became a recognisable figure at poetry readings, and was in the audience in 1951 when Emmanuel Litvinoff read his blistering riposte to TS Eliot’s poem, “Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleistein with a Cigar”. Abse sat just in front of Eliot, having shaken his hand, and heard Eliot when he leant forward to say, “It’s a good poem, a very good poem.” At this time Abse began editing a roneoed magazine called Poetry and Poverty, as a response to the more formal and intimate writing from poets such as Thom Gunn, Donald Davie and Philip Larkin. The project briefly lost funding when its wealthy South African backer complained that it was not Marxist enough.

Abse’s father had been funding Dannie’s medical studies, but his career as a cinema entrepreneur ended when he had to sell a failing picture house in the slums of Newport. He greeted the news that his son had finally passed his exams with the words, “About bloody time.” Shortly afterwards, the young poet joined the RAF. During his service as a medic he inadvertently enraged an abusive Wing Commander. Abse’s revenge came when his tormentor arrived for a routine medical inspection, and he was able to ask the officer repeatedly, “Have you ever had syphilis?” A shamed silence followed.

Abse’s next medical posting led him to become a chest specialist. He continued to work as a doctor until 1989 (although from 1973-4 he was Senior Fellow of Humanities at Princeton University), and when he retired he devoted himself full-time to writing, performing and editing. He continued to read his poems with the passion that he found so lacking from the poetry scene that he had encountered in the late 1940s. He produced anthologies with his wife Joan (née Mercer), an art historian he met when she was a librarian at the Financial Times. The couple settled in Golders Green (next door to Bob Monkhouse).

Joan was killed in a car crash, in 2005, which Danny survived. The loss led to a powerful sequence of elegies, Two for Joy: Scenes from a Married Life (2010). His final volume, Speak, Old Parrot, was published last year. “This veteran flier can still sing and swoop,” declared one reviewer. His collected poems will be published in January 2015.

Abse was appointed CBE in 2012.

In his late poem “Valediction” he delivered a wry paean to a life immersed in Welsh and Yiddish lore, love and political activism: “In this exile called old age / I live between nostalgia and rage. / This is the land of fools and fear. / Thanks be. I’m lucky to be here.”

He is survived by his three children, Keren, Susanna and David.

Dannie Abse, born September 22 1923, died September 28 2014


Many of the quotes in the interview with Dominic Grieve (27 September) were a cause of sadness and regret to me that such a man had been forced out of his post. But the saddest point was the quote: “The party is still a coalition of people who have a sense of historical continuity. We’re not here to smash up things we’ve inherited.” How can an intelligent and principled man continue to hold such a belief when all the evidence is in complete opposition to it? Does he think that shrinking of the state, favourable treatment for the rich and privatisation of publicly owned resources (such as our schools and the NHS), is “historical continuity”? I can only compare his delusion to that of members of the Labour party who still believe that their party’s policies represent the wishes and needs of those who have been their traditional supporters.
John Davis

• Is the greater sinner the ageing Tory minister who foolishly believed a young blonde woman was attracted to him, or the journalist who deliberately set out to entrap him with explicit conversations and photographs built around a tissue of lies?
Paul Traynor

• We’ve now had three self-indulgent Tory MPs pointlessly resign and stand for re-election – David Davis in 2008, and this month Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless. Maybe they would think again if they had to bear the £125,000 cost to the taxpayer of a by-election.
David Shilling
Knutsford, Cheshire

• For Cameron to lose one MP to Ukip was unfortunate, but to lose a second MP was Reckless.
John Daramy
Chesterfield, Derbyshire

With the background of the current turmoil in the Middle East, the news that the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has, at the UN general assembly, declared the US-led peace process dead (Report, 27 September), the prospects of a two-state solution look more remote than ever. This makes ever more pressing the urgency of buttressing the Palestinian Authority, reinforced, as it has been, by a concordat between Fatah and Hamas. So British recognition of the state of Palestine, joining 134 of the 193 member states of the UN, in an initiative advocated by Vincent Fean (until recently our consul-general in Jerusalem) would be a very welcome move, which ought to influence US policy in this regard, a sine qua non for the international pressure needed to bear down on Israel. That President Obama is sympathetic is evident from his recent reiteration to the UN general assembly of his commitment to the two-state principle; a reminder of what he said in his speech in Cairo in 2009 during his first term: “….it is undeniable that the Palestinian people – Muslim and Christian – have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than 60 years they have endured the pain of dislocation … They endure the daily humiliations, large and small, of occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity and a state of their own.”

But Oliver Miles says “it would be idle to look for public agreement since the administration’s hands are tied by Congress” (Comment, 27 September). With the utmost temerity I question this. Although the US constitution does not explicitly grant presidents the power to recognise foreign governments, it is generally accepted that they have this power as a consequence of their constitutional authority to send and receive ambassadors, and presidents have successfully claimed exclusive authority to decide which foreign governments will be recognised. This being so, at this advanced stage of his second presidency, would it be far-fetched to expect President Obama to show grit, and honour with action the fine words he spoke five years ago?
Benedict Birnberg

Amberley Castle in spring, flying England flag of Saint George, West Sussex England UK. Flag of Saint George flies at Amberley Castle, West Sussex. Photograph: Alamy

Vernon Bogdanor (Why English votes for English laws is a kneejerk absurdity, 25 September) is right to argue that the English votes for English laws proposal is a diversion. It is just one part of a much bigger jigsaw. The way to fix the “English question” does not lie within Westminster. The fantastic democratic adventure in Scotland shows that we can end the culture of over-centralisation and empower local people to make their own decisions on local issues. Local government can and should be the vehicle for English devolution if it can be finally freed from the chains of Whitehall with a radical shift of powers from the centre.

Of course, I agree that democratic change cannot be drawn up on the back of a fag packet in a matter of days. But there is a wealth of thinking and reports about English devolution that belie this description. Our Magna Carta is approaching its 800th anniversary and we must make sure any constitutional reform has support not just from all parties but also from the people so that it can be a lasting democratic settlement for the UK. The political and constitutional reform committee, which I chair, published a report, Codifying the relationship between central and local government, which set out in detail how to achieve local devolution back in 2013, and has published a report on the possibility of a written constitution, A new Magna Carta? earlier this summer.

The referendum has given us momentum for real constitutional change now. It is our responsibility to the people of Britain that we ensure this is not lost in party politics or further delay.
Graham Allen MP
Labour, Nottingham North

• “An explosion in a jigsaw factory,” was how the map of Germany in the 19th century was described by author Simon Winder. It was thus a surprise that Bogdanor suggested that localities are the key to English devolution. German civic fragmentation endured into the Weimar constitution but was no block to the rise of the centralism that accompanied Hitler. By 1952 the new Federal Republic of Germany consisted of 10 comparable Lander with real powers. British constitutional lawyers played a major role in giving Germany a stable government. Surely now our leaders and their advisers must show similar imagination and not hark back to this or that proud civic history. That the electorate in the north-east rejected a regional assembly with limited powers, in 2004, is insufficient evidence for careful consideration of a regional approach to English devolution in an otherwise impossibly asymmetric federal Britain.
Iain Mackintosh

• English votes for English laws is indeed nonsense. As well as the complex financial interactions within so much new legislation, well described by Bogdanor, the procedural complexities would be ridiculous. Most large, new bills cover the whole of the UK, with different clauses applying to different countries and combinations of countries. The recently passed 232 page-long Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act has sections and schedules that variously extend to England and Wales only; to England and Wales and Scotland; to England and Wales and Northern Ireland; and to all four countries. Some bills even have clauses that only apply to Scotland.

Second-reading debates and votes in the Commons would have to involve all MPs. Would there then be different subsets of MPs at committee stage? Or different ones able to vote on amendments at report, each wearing an appropriate badge for the benefit of tellers? The principle could not be applied in the House of Lords where almost all members are “UK peers” wherever they live. The idea is scurrilous and potentially quite dangerous rightwing populism.
Tony Greaves
Lib Dem, House of Lords

• Methinks Bogdanor protests too much. The Scottish referendum result has achieved where Guy Fawkes failed: it has blown up the British constitution. I don’t think it’s that difficult in seeing how the pieces can now best fit together at nil extra cost to taxpayers. Four country assemblies, and a senate in place of the House of Lords, should meet in existing institutions, although I would hope the English assembly would meet in different parts of the country depending on what English business it was deciding upon. Where Bogdanor is right is in the hard work that would have to follow in making any framework robust enough to deliver a new structure of government. Move one is to agree the new constitutional structure and then Vernon’s hard work begins.
Frank Field MP
Labour, Birkenhead

• Bogdanor claims that “a bifurcated government is a logical absurdity”. But under its constitution for over 200 years, the US has had a bifurcated government: divided into two branches. The president’s responsibilities differ from those of Congress – and indeed those of the Senate from those of the House of Representatives. This causes problems but no one before Bogdanor – who as a professor of government might have been expected to know better – has claimed it is an “absurdity”. He taught Cameron at Oxford, which may explain the prime minister’s occasional errors.
Richard Jameson
Guildford, Surrey

All eight letters (27 September) about the air strikes against Islamic State (Isis) that you printed were opposed to them. Most of us who have been inclined to support them would concede it is possible for intelligent, fair-minded people to take such a view. What is shocking, however, is that not one of these opponents of air strikes faced up to the corollary of their position: that they would have been content to accept the high probability of the massacre and barbaric ill-treatment of thousands of people if air strikes were not stemming the Isis advance. In their vituperation, they also failed to recognise that it was not just “Bullingdon Boy” Cameron having his “Falklands moment”, but the great majority of all the main parties who backed air strikes. Why do they assume that in backing air strikes (not ‘indiscriminate bombing’ as asserted) all these MPs must have done so out of a “warmongering” appetite for ‘England’s self-aggrandisement’ rather than from a conscientious view of the best course of action?
Edmund Gray


Philip Hammond’s declaration to the media (26 September) that the terrifying rise of Isis is the fault of President Assad of Syria is not only mendacious but deceives the public into believing that there is a single cause for complex and volatile situations, such as those prevailing in the Middle East now and historically.

Both the UK and US governments were repeatedly warned that the illegal invasion of Iraq would lead to Muslim anger and resentment, and that the invasion could lead to the fragmentation of Iraq into distinct ethnic factions.

Further contributing errors that have led to the radicalisation of many Sunnis were the disbanding of the Iraqi army and police force, which drew most of its officers from Saddam’s Batha’aist party, and the installation of a predominantly Shia government backed by the West that became intent on levelling scores with the Sunni population.

Thus, the Western powers that orchestrated the invasion in 2003 have directly created the conditions in which groups like Isis are able to surface and attract the disillusioned.

Moreover, it is strongly suspected that Isis has received funding from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, two leading Western allies in the region whose human-rights records are extremely dubious. Hammond et al ignore history at their peril.

Anna Romano
Worksop, Nottinghamshire

I thought that the point of the Chilcot Inquiry was to cast light on the desirability and efficacy of military intervention in the Middle East. In view of the Government’s enthusiasm for returning to air strikes, is it not time that at least the Executive Summary of the report is released?

Michael Godwin

You report Cameron “making absolutely sure the Labour opposition would support him…” (report, 27 September) so the “debate” in the Commons was a complete sham. It was another deal done by boys in back rooms.

I can’t imagine why Middle Eastern countries don’t want our “democracy”.

Simon Allen
London N2

The vote for a new war in Iraq taken in the Commons on 26 September was narrowly focused in terms of geography and the extent of deployment. However as the usual warmongers have made clear, there is another angle clearly flagged by Mr Cameron in the debate. Namely that the military action may well go on for some years. In reality Britain is reverting to the kind of imperial-warfare state it was in the late 19th century when Britain was always at war with someone.

Keith Flett
London N17

At last the American government has found the perfect formula for war without end. Invade and bomb Middle East states. This creates jihadists who must be got rid of. So bomb the jihadist. This creates more jihadists who must also be bombed and so on. The military/industrial complex is in business in perpetuity. Endless peace by waging endless war as forecast by Gore Vidal has now come to pass.

Jim McCluskey
Twickenham, Middlesex

Miliband’s arrogance got him into trouble

In assessing a prospective parliamentary candidate’s suitability, the selection committee will list things that they expect the applicants to be able to do and the making of speeches will be near the top. If one of the candidates misses out two key elements of his/her presentation then they will be out of the door forthwith.

Amol Rajan’s assessment of Ed Miliband (27 September) failed to grasp the fact that Ed is not a rookie politician but the leader of the opposition and has aspirations to be prime minister. The electorate does not take kindly to those who are incompetent at what should be one of their key skills.

By attempting to speak for over an hour without the safety net of either notes or a prompt, Miliband displayed an arrogant and misguided belief in his own competence which is solely to blame for his subsequent discomfort at the hands of the press.

John Orton

Ed Miliband forgetting to deliver parts of his speech to Labour conference perfectly illustrates the problem inherent with news embargoes. They are fine when everything goes according to plan, but they tempt fate. If Mr Miliband prefers to speak extemporaneously, it would be preferable for Labour spin doctors to refrain from releasing advance copies of speeches that might not be delivered. In doing so they are handing the media a stick to beat him with.

The BBC is a particularly annoying misuser of embargoed speeches, forever telling us what a politician is going to say, before they say it. I am quite content to find out what people have said after they have said it.

Nigel Scott
London N22

How to deal with boorish groping

Rosie Millard (27 September) is absolutely right when she says that Dave Lee Travis (and other bottom/breast squeezers) don’t deserve to go to jail. And perhaps they don’t require police attention.

But woven into her article is the casual misogynist idea that women who are subjected to a minor sexual assault (and yes, groping is a sexual assault) should just ignore it and move on. It’s the whole “know your place” notion all over again.

So how to deal with this unwanted and disrespectful attention without the police? Well, the last man who pinched my bottom, was pushed away (by me) with such force that he stumbled back with a look of complete shock. Pointing right in his face I snarled, “Don’t you DARE touch me”. He walked off, obviously unable to handle someone who would actually stand up to him.

Women – don’t ignore it, fight for yourself and your dignity. It can be an empowering moment.

Beth Richardson

I agree with Rosie Millard that it would have been madness to send Dave Lee Travis to jail, and share her concerns about the motives of the woman who took him to court years after the offence to procure this guilty verdict. But if you are going to grope people you do run the risk of some of them turning out to be furious, litigious, or bonkers.

Simon Bentley

Rosie Millard’s suggestion that women who get their breasts squeezed and their bottoms pinched should “get over it” as “part of life” is disturbing. It reads too much like a blasé acceptance of the unacceptable, and is in danger of normalising the disrespectful culture she goes on to describe. It helps no one to use euphemisms such as “bohemian” to describe behaviours and attitudes which are, simply, offensive.

Clare Jackson
Newcastle upon Tyne

The mysteries of corporate accounting

Andreas Whittam Smith says the current Tesco scandal really shocked him (25 September). Well, as a qualified accountant, I can tell him that such errors are all too predictable.

The problem is that the International Financial Reporting System (IFRS), which replaced UK GAAP, is about as imprudent as it gets. This system allows assets to be inflated and certain liabilities to be hidden. The Income Statement now includes unearned income. So Income Statements and Balance Sheets are now relatively worthless documents; only the Cash Flow Statement offers a reasonable clue as to what is going on. The fact is that accounts no longer represent actual transactions, but instead are based on economic theory.

The problem is that our government does not know how to dismantle IFRS and so attempts to demonstrate it is doing something by setting up organisations such as the toothless Financial Conduct Authority.

So investors should no longer rely on published accounts unless they can read between the lines.

Malcolm Howard FCMA
Banstead, Surrey

Tesco’s chairman has pronounced that things are always unnoticed until they have been noticed. Is he Donald Rumsfeld – of the “known unknowns” fame – in disguise?

Ramji Abinashi
Amersham, Bucks

Who decides what is or isn’t art?

Regarding Nathan Sawaya’s Art of the Brick show (27 September), Jay Merrick states that it is both “dumb and eerily thought-provoking”, and “most of Sawaya’s pieces are not art”.

If appalling unmade beds can be deemed “art” then why not Lego sculptures?

If something makes you stop and stare in wonder while the world carries on around you, I’d call that a great piece of art.

Emilie Lamplough
Trowbridge, Wiltshire

The wonder of windmills

As a lover of traditional windmills, I’d like to respond to the inclusion of Old Buckenham mill in the list of least popular tourist attractions during the past year (Travel, 27 September). For various reasons the mill is, at present, only open five days a year; had it been more the visitor total would have been a good deal higher. If you do want to visit windmills, check out this one – it’s great!

Guy Blythman
Shepperton, Middlesex


Sir, I have just unearthed a copy of The Times of August 21, 1998, with the headline “US strikes back at terrorists” and featuring a large picture on the front page of a certain Osama bin Laden. Perhaps current politicians and leader writers should reflect on the success of that exercise. Should one not learn from experience? As Albert Einstein said: “When you stop learning, you start dying.”
Peter Keen

Sir, You are right to say that it will be ineffective to try to tackle insurgents in Iraq without involvement in Syria (“The Case for Action”, Sept 26). It is also unlikely that the ideology behind an Islamic state will disappear. The UK could find itself drawn into a major conflagration that could drag on for decades. MPs felt they had to say yes to be seen to act, but history will probably judge this a tragic mistake.
Elizabeth Oakley
Dursley, Glos

Sir, It is a pity that we haven’t the same courage to avoid conflict as we do to encourage it. No doubt innocent people will be killed, building more resentment on our streets.
DJ Wathen
Evesham, Worcs

Sir, Six aged British Tornados joining in the bombing of Islamic State is no more than a token contribution to a token intervention. Recalling parliament to make that decision was gesture politics. If we have nothing to offer we ought to keep out for the time being.
Captain TJ Hosker RN
Rugby, Warwicks

Sir, Will public and parliamentary support stay with the government if one or more Tornado aircraft are shot down, and their crews lost? The Tornado, although capable, is probably the oldest in-service aircraft being used against these targets. Its vulnerability to sophisticated air defence systems is possibly a reason why David Cameron is reluctant at this time to join in strikes in Syria.
Adrian Burt
Hook, Hants

Sir, The assertion that an attack by the UK on Isis in Iraq, Syria or anywhere else would be unlawful under international law is nonsense. Isis is not a state, it is an international conspiracy of gangsters. It is the duty of all members of the UN to seek them out and destroy them. The sanction of the security council is no more necessary for this than it is for us to attack Somali pirates.
Malcolm Bishop, QC
London EC1

Sir, The overwhelming weight of history shows that adversity only strengthens the other side’s resolve, for instance during the London blitz of 1940-41 and Gandhi’s resistance to British rule in India to name but two. The Roman Empire eventually realised that the exercise of overweening force was counterproductive and, instead of sending vast armies to subdue rebellious regions, ultimately turned to Christianity to do the same job — with much more effective results. It is not too late for our leaders to appreciate that, while they may command the latest military technology, only a hearts and minds victory will provide a lasting solution. That is the real problem that all governments of good faith should now be addressing.
Don Porter
Sherborne, Dorset

Sir, After twice being caned for playground fighting in wartime Britain, I learnt that fights were easier to start than to end on favourable terms.
John Pincham
Stoke D’Abernon, Surrey

Sir, Matthew Parris (Opinion, Sept 27) forgets that for evil to flourish it is sufficient that good men do nothing.
Colin Hazell
Colchester, Essex

Sir, It was distasteful for you to herald the “battle” for the Ryder Cup as “. . . when two tribes go to war.” Sport has an unhealthy obsession with the military, as witnessed by the appalling decision to have the Victoria Cross emblem appearing on England’s rugby shirts. Sport is wonderful, but men hitting balls into holes with sticks has nothing to do with the awful reality of war.
Peter Bainbridge
St Helens, Lancs

Sir, My favourite description for an accountant (letters, Sept 26) was from George Carman, QC, defending the comedian Ken Dodd in his trial for tax evasion.

After the jury had heard evidence from, among others, accountants, Carman summed up: “Some accountants are comedians but comedians are never accountants.”
Ian Cherry
Preston, Lancs

Sir, Nature Notes (Sept 25) points out the popularity of flowering ivy with insects. I can confirm this since I passed a patch of ivy and the buzzing was so loud that I thought I’d disturbed a swarm of bees. Fortunately, they were interested in the ivy not me. But where have they been all summer? It has been a record season for blossom and blooms but there has been scarcely a honey bee in my garden or allotment.
Eric Johns
Swanage, Dorset

Sir, Your letter (Sept 27) about the evocative names of the pre-numerical telephone exchanges certainly resonated with many Northolt people whose exchange was VIKing for most mysterious reasons relating to the local team playing a friendship football tournament in Norway immediately after the last war.

The presence of Viking primary school and Viking community centre still confuses visitors who assume that we are nostalgic for the days of Scandinavian raiders on the Brent.
Steve Pound
MP, Ealing North


Isil poses far more of a threat to Sunni regimes than it does to the West

About 500 Shiite volunteers from Tal Afar attend a combat training session at a military camp in the Shiite shrine city of Karbala in central Iraq to join the fight against jihadists of the Islamic State (IS) group which led a sweeping offensive in June that overran much of the country's Sunni Arab heartland.

About 500 Shiite volunteers from Tal Afar attend a combat training session at a military camp in the Shiite shrine city of Karbala in central Iraq to join the fight against jihadists of the Islamic State (IS) group Photo: MOHAMMED SAWAF/AFP/Getty Images

6:57AM BST 28 Sep 2014


SIR – Isil poses far more of a threat to Middle East Sunni regimes than it does to the West.

Let them deal with the threat. They are not short of the military wherewithal. Our involvement should be restricted to telling the Qataris and Saudis to stop playing the destructive sectarian card against “apostate” Shiites.

This would require the West to swallow its pride and acknowledge that Assad, Hezbollah and Iran are not our enemies.

Yugo Kovach
Winterborne Houghton, Dorset

SIR – Yousef Al Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates ambassador to America, argues cogently and courageously against Islamic extremism, but his wide-ranging list of terrorist groups notably fails to mention Hamas, whose barbaric actions and outrageous covenant – publicly available on the internet – clearly show it to have morals and aims on a par with Isil. Hamas is funded by both Qatar and Iran.

Dr Ardon Lyon
Templecombe, Somerset

Bankers’ bonuses

SIR – The cant continues over bonuses for bankers.

A bonus is something extra given for providing something extra. It would therefore make sense for the public, who are paying the bonuses, to be informed of the level of provision at which anything above is held to be extra to the bankers’ obligations, why that level was chosen and how the bonuses are structured above it.

Stanley Eckersley
Pudsey, West Yorkshire

Distant barking

SIR – Your report on “barking dogs” at Sudbury (September 21) reminds me of the Basingstoke Canal pumping system.

When the system was switched on to pump water from the first to the sixth lock, we had reports of barking dogs. On investigation, the air being pushed upwards on the start-up of the pump was lifting the manhole cover intermittently.

We drilled three-inch holes to let the air out on start up.

L E Haworth
Woking, Surrey

Boys should listen to Emma Watson

SIR – I watched Emma Watson’s UN speech and agreed with everything she said, so I was disappointed by how ignorant some of the other boys in my class were about it (I attend an independent, all-boys school).

We are lucky to live in a western country where women can speak out against stereotypes. Feminism is not about man-hating or female supremacy. It is, by definition, the opposite. It’s pretty simple really: if you believe in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes, then you’re a feminist.

By using words such as “girly” or “manly” we inadvertently buy into gender stereotyping. We play with toys designed for our gender, we go to segregated schools, we play different sports based on gender, and yet it takes some effort for many people to acknowledge the existence of gender inequality and the injustice it entails for both sexes.

If we want equality, it will take more effort than paying women the same as men, or giving women equal opportunities. We must all make an active decision to change our language. We must stop pressuring each other to fit stereotypes which more often than not leaves us feeling repressed and unable to express ourselves. We must not let gender define us.

Ed Holtom
St Albans, Hertfordshire

Pupils misbehaving

SIR – Sir Michael Wilshaw’s comments attacking head teachers for bad pupil behaviour is not conducive to finding solutions.

Misbehaviour in the classroom is a real problem which must be addressed to help improve education standards, but what is the Government doing to support teachers dealing with a range of abilities, ballooning class sizes and longer hours?

The application of consistent behaviour policy and cooperation between teachers and parents is vital in tackling pupil behaviour, but teachers also need continuing professional development and the support of their head teachers, who in turn must be backed up by properly trained governors.

Julian Stanley
Chief Executive, Teacher Support Network Group
London N5

Unjust mansion tax

SIR – The mansion tax is unfair on people who have remained in their homes for a number of years. I bought my flat in what was a slum part of Pimlico 50 years ago for £5,000 and my family later purchased another for £23,000. The combined market value for these properties is now over £2 million.

Why can’t we adopt the French system whereby a house or flat automatically carries a tax but this is tapered year on year? This yields a heavy tax from those buying for profit but does not penalise the long-term resident.

Harry Stone
London SW1

Ukulele fit for a queen

SIR – The ukulele may be a “curious musical confection” (Simkins’s World, September 21) but it is nothing new.

Instruments that shared the size, shape, tuning and playing technique of ukuleles were fashionable in Tudor London from about 1545, when they were known as gitterns.

Queen Elizabeth received a set of three as a gift in 1559. There is a fine depiction of one in marquetry of about 1567 at Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire.

Professor Christopher Page
Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge

Peers on the Tube

SIR – Charles Foster (Letters, September 21) rightly gives the cost of Tube fares for Baroness Hanham’s journey from Westminster to Waterloo.

Additionally, for £30 for one year or £70 for three, she could purchase a Senior Railcard, which would give her a third off these and all other rail fares. I would have no objection to that going on to her expenses claim.

John Newbury
Warminster, Wiltshire

SIR – If Baroness Hanham paid an average of £25 for taxi journeys from the Houses of Parliament to Waterloo, she is either being ripped off by drivers or over-tipping.

A taxi from my club in St James’s to Waterloo, a longer distance, averages £10-15.

Chris Harding
Parkstone, Dorset

Mediocre monarch

SIR — Richard III “the best king of England” (Letters, September 21)? Have I missed something?

Try as I might, I can think of nothing worthwhile accomplished during his mercifully short reign, the best result of which was the arrival of the Tudor dynasty.

Karin Proudfoot
Fawkham, Kent

Save Burma from the curse of the package tourist

Allowing tourists to overrun the country will see it go the same way as Thailand and Bali

Cultural preservation: a Buddhist monk at the entrance of the Maha Wizaya Pagoda in Yangon, Burma

Cultural preservation: a Buddhist monk at the entrance of the Maha Wizaya Pagoda in Yangon, Burma  Photo: ALAMY

6:59AM BST 28 Sep 2014


SIR – Having worked in the airline industry for 40 years, I find myself slightly concerned at the current focus on Burma as a destination for tourists.

We should take heed of what happened to Thailand and Bali after the package tour groups began to arrive in 747s and drunken tourists, totally ignorant of the ways of life in these places, came to disrupt the calm atmosphere. Poor Burma can hardly escape a dreadful influx of thrill-seekers who care not a jot about the temples of Bagan.

James Munro
Anères, Hautes-Pyrénées, France

Devolution should not mean paying for yet more politicians

There is no good reason to create further parliamentary posts in order to populate devolved parliaments

St George’s flag is a racist symbol says a quarter of the English

Devolution: is a separate English parliament the answer to the West Lothian Question? Photo: ALAMY

7:00AM BST 28 Sep 2014


SIR – It need not be difficult for David Cameron to achieve his ambition of English votes for English laws without exceeding the number of existing parliamentarians in the United Kingdom.

The House of Commons should continue to debate UK issues, with MPs representing non-English constituencies vacating the chamber during debates on English matters. The leadership during the English debates would depend on which party held sway in England, which may differ from that for the whole UK.

To satisfy the bloated Scottish parliament and assemblies of Wales and Northern Ireland their members could consist of their existing Westminster MPs plus additional regional members.

Bruce Denness
Whitwell, Isle of Wight

SIR – We now need a complete rethink of our constitutional arrangements, to give the same consideration to other parts of the UK as are given to Scotland.

There are currently nearly 1,000 MPs and representatives in the devolved assemblies. A small country such as ours doesn’t need any more paid politicians.

MPs should also sit in their own nation’s assemblies alongside an appropriate number of additional members to provide proportional representation, thus creating common links between the centre and the devolved.

English MPs could then be left to debate and vote on English legislation in Westminster.

Michael Staples
Seaford, East Sussex

SIR – It may be true that the vast majority of people in Scotland desire greater devolution, but that is not what they voted for in the referendum.

If the clamour for devolution in England results in the creation of just one more politician paid for by the taxpayers it will be regrettable.

David Chapman
Kirkby Lonsdale, Lancashire

SIR – I would like to offer up a two-part solution to the West Lothian Question.

First, turn the House of Commons into a new English parliament, composed solely of English MPs, to vote solely on English domestic law. In the political hierarchy, this English parliament would sit directly alongside the existing Scottish Parliament and Welsh and Northern Irish Assemblies.

Secondly, turn the House of Lords into a wholly elected upper chamber of members from across the UK. This chamber would hold sway on non-devolved matters, such as defence and foreign policy, and debate UK-wide issues.

Dr Mark Campbell-Roddis
Dunblane, Perthshire

SIR – How very kind of the Scots to vote for English devolution.

P J Bryant
Wisbech, Cambridgeshire

SIR – There is an egregious injustice which must be rectified in any reconsideration of the constitution and the means by which we are governed.

If we are not to endure the disaster of “a Labour government we won’t vote for” the reform of constituency boundaries, which was so shamefully impeded by the Liberal Democrats, must now be carried out.

John Nandris
Merton, Oxfordshire

SIR – Janet Daley makes a compelling case for the privacy of the polling booth. This is why the misguided relaxations of the rules for postal votes must be reversed as part of the constitutional review.

Postal voting increases potential for error and fraud and postal voters lose out on the final few days of debate. Our polling stations are open long enough and are sufficiently numerous for anyone making a reasonable effort to be able to find the time to go out and vote.

Postal votes should be reserved for those for whom they are absolutely necessary.

David Mannering
Langley Burrell, Wiltshire

SIR – In comparing the effect of Alex Salmond’s fantasy approach to the detail of Scottish independence with Ukip’s lack of a detailed European Union withdrawal plan, Christopher Booker misses the point.

An independent Scotland would have had no economic power to compel England to do things Salmond’s way.

Britain is one of the world’s major economic, cultural, and political forces. As the main export market for the rest of the EU, we are essential to the survival of the French and German political elites. If we leave the EU, France and Germany will dance to our tune.

John Sheridan Smith

SIR – The argument for Britain leaving the EU is entirely different from the argument for Scottish independence.

The UK has its own currency, central bank, banking system, government revenue, welfare system, national health system, human rights legislation and Armed Forces – in fact it has everything necessary for a prosperous, independent sovereign state.

Stanislas Yassukovich
Oppède, Vaucluse, France

SIR – I cannot agree with E G Nisbet’s comments about “Westminster prattle” being played on Radio 4 before the shipping forecast.

I, for one, like to hear it at the break of day, not least because it covers the Scottish and Welsh assemblies too.

The well-constructed bulletin is also broadcast late at night for those who prefer not to wait until the morning.

Malcolm Watson
Welford, Berkshire

SIR – One of your correspondents suggested that “the zip that is Hadrian’s Wall can be undone”, allowing Scotland to drift off on its own.

Is he therefore suggesting that England cede Northumberland and part of Cumbria to the Scots as a parting gift?

David Hurrell
Alnwick, Northumberland

Irish Times:

Sir, – We are among the members of a diverse group of 23 non-partisan individuals who have just returned from a visit to the West Bank. Prior to our visit we had seen the terrible scenes of the bombing of Gaza on our television screens but nothing prepared us for the shocking reality of the daily lives of Palestinians in the West Bank.

During the trip we met with many groups and individuals from Palestinian and Israeli civil society. We were struck by the incessant restriction of movement of Palestinians – numerous stories of men and women unable to pass freely between Bethlehem and Jerusalem (about 10km apart) because they could not obtain a permit to enter Jerusalem. On one occasion, our guide, who was Christian, had to vacate our bus at a checkpoint simply because he was Palestinian when our route brought us through an Israeli settlement.

Many people told us about the refusal to grant building permits to Palestinians, the systematic demolition of houses and the non-recognition of their right to live in their own property, despite proof of legal title.

Reports of widespread discriminatory arrests and detention of Palestinian children were well documented – in some cases children were held in solitary confinement for up to 29 days.

In our meeting with the Irish representative to the Palestinian Authority, we were informed of the ongoing financial assistance provided by Ireland to the people of the West Bank and Gaza. However, we are dismayed by Ireland’s apparent failure to take a principled position in relation to the occupation of Palestine and the daily violation of human rights in the West Bank.

Many of the people we met emphasised the urgency of a resolution to this situation. Time is running out, and the daily situation of Palestinians in the West Bank is deteriorating with the escalating consolidation of Israeli settlements. It is our hope that Ireland will play a significant role in the international community, speaking out against the unlawful actions and human rights abuses which we witnessed so frequently during our visit. – Yours, etc,


Charleston Road,

Ranelagh,Dublin 6;


Prospect Road,

Dublin 9.

Sir, – Having contributed, along with my past employer, to a pension scheme, it is now really riling to see this savings pot being raided repeatedly at the behest of individuals who are accruing several State pensions, and all this with little or no fuss.

The excuse that the original contributions were tax exempt does not hold water as the pension, what’s left of it, will be fully taxable on the way out (and now subject to USC as well). It would really make one consider the advisability of keeping any savings onshore because, having got away with this, attacking deposits next can’t be too far away. What has happened to the “grey army”? Why no protests? This was brought in as an emergency measure but, as there has been very little hissing by the goose, the Minister continues to pluck. – Yours, etc,


Fenagh, Co Carlow.

A chara, – It is hard to imagine that the current tea-cup tempest over Rule 68 of “Rules for National Schools” is anything other than yet another attempt to stir up controversy in relation to our denominational educational system (“Change in ‘archaic’ rule on religious teaching sought”, September 24th).

For example, the rule in question states that religious instruction is a “fundamental part of the school course”. This is entirely reasonable in a school with a religious ethos; and if anyone can point to an example of one with a secular ethos being written up by a departmental inspector for failing to comply, I would be interested to hear of it. Those who express concerns about the impact this might have on children from families whose ethos differs from that of the school they attend need to read further along in the document. Rule 69 expressly states that no child has to attend religious instruction their parent or guardian does not approve of; and also guarantees that provision be made for the child to be absent from school at reasonable times to receive instruction elsewhere of which they do approve.

The language of the “Rules” may at times seem a little quaint, and indeed dated; that is merely a reflection of the times in which they were written. But for so elderly a document, it seems commendably committed to flexibly making provision for those of differing views and backgrounds.

It is a pity that those who see discrimination everywhere, while seeking to foist a one-size-fits-all system of education upon the nation that accords with their own pet preferences, do not have an equally flexible approach to accommodating diversity. – Is mise,



Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – In 1811 Henry Grattan submitted his opinion to an inquiry into Irish primary education that religion “should be taught, but that no particular description of it should form a part of their education”. Two centuries later, isn’t it past time that our current parliamentarians acted on Grattan’s advice? – Yours, etc,


Dublin Institute

of Technology,

Kevin Street,

Dublin 8.

A chara, – Prof David McConnell claims (September 24th) that “Science has been taking the place of faith for many people for thousands of years from Cicero to Galileo, Kant, Darwin and Einstein”. This is surely a somewhat questionable claim. All of these great thinkers, including Einstein, believed in one way or another in a reality beyond the natural world that empirical science explores.

Had Prof McConnell used the terms “reason” instead of “science” and “religion” instead of “faith”, then the sentence would have made some sense. In other words, “reason has taken the place of religion since Cicero, etc”. And there is a certain truth in this assertion.

Religion is the complex of values and rites that surround the nodal experiences of life, such as birth, marriage, death, and the inauguration of political authorities; it is not to be identified with faith, which also finds expression in and through such rites. It was the ancient Greek philosophers who discovered the fullness of reason, ie its ability to grasp the existence of that which transcends the empirical world. (Cicero got his inspiration from them.) This discovery was by means of a critique of both the religion they had inherited and the narrowing of reason to rationalism by their contemporaries, the Sophists.

From the start, Christian thinkers found their allies in the Greek philosophers (and so recognised the importance of Cicero and preserved his texts for posterity). Christian faith, like that of the Old Testament prophets, also involved a profound critique of religion as mere ritual. The irony is that the Humanist Association of Ireland is developing into an ersatz religion by providing alternative rituals for birth, marriage, and death – and being represented at the inauguration of the President.

Reason – our capacity for truth – is, in its fullness, one that has not lost its capacity for wonder, and so is open to the transcendent. By comparison, the rationalism of the modern scientific mentality assumes, with no convincing evidence, that nothing exists apart from the empirical realm. Reason, in short, needs faith to keep it open to the beyond – just as faith needs reason, if it is not to narrow its vision and degenerate into mere ritualism or, worse, fanaticism. Reason in its fullness is therefore critical of a merely ritualistic religion, including that offered by the new atheist church in Ireland or by the Catholic Church, should it allow itself to be reduced to simply being a provider of rites of passage for its own community – to the detriment of that faith which moves mountains and, more challengingly, opens minds. – Is mise,



Professor Emeritus

of Theology,

Maynooth, Co Kildare.

Sir, – Those who seek to justify the 1916 Rising at the expense of the 1914 Home Rule Bill make a number of mistakes.

First, they trot out the line that the Ulster Volunteers were armed to the teeth and would never have allowed the Home Rule Bill to be implemented, and yet those same Ulster Volunteers didn’t stop the Home Rule Bill being passed at Westminster and becoming the law of the land. Once it was the law of the land there is no reason to doubt the British government would have implemented it, just as it implemented all the other major reforms that were passed at Westminster.

Second, 1916 apologists refuse to acknowledge why exactly the majority of Ulster people were opposed to home rule in the first place. It was because they were fearful for their religious freedoms and business interests, which as the history of the Free State proved, they were quite right to fear.

Third, the real crux of the debate about 1916 is not so much the Rising itself – the Proclamation could have been read out anywhere, be it the new Irish parliament proposed under home rule or at a council meeting, for all the relevance it has ever had to the lives of real people – but rather the chain of events it created. Was the Rising worth the War of Independence it caused, or the Civil War, or the decades of economic and social stagnation, the loss of hundreds of thousands of people to emigration, the social damage inflicted by a Catholic theocracy?

What did we get by 1922 that we wouldn’t have got by 1922 under home rule?

When people are reluctant to worship at the altar of 1916, they raise issues of guilt that make those who do so feel uncomfortable, and it is well known that Irish people far prefer to wallow in denial than face reality. As we approach 2016, it has to be asked what exactly is it we are celebrating? Are we celebrating the avoidable deaths of the War of Independence, or the bitterness caused by the Civil War, the effects of which are still with us, or the fact that the Rising created the partition of the island and ensured that there would never be a united island under one government, the very opposite of its claimed goal?

People who say it doesn’t matter today need to be reminded that the reason Ireland lost its economic sovereignty in 2010 and is currently still in an economic cul-de-sac is directly linked back to the type of politics that was created in Ireland after independence, with cronyism and localism dominating the decision-making process and an almost violent reaction to anyone who points out flaws or who offers a different opinion to the one agreed on by the cute hoors. This mentality is still evident in the Garda and public sector because it’s the mentality that still applies all across the political class who still in 2014 fight every effort at transparency tooth and nail.

If we are ever to learn from our past mistakes, to avoid repeating them, we have to have the guts to face up to debating our past.

In 1914 we had home rule for the entire island, based on inputs from both traditions but those in the nationalist tradition squandered the chance to create a country based on the best of both traditions and instead inflicted two countries based on the worst of each tradition. It is perfectly reasonable to question the type of country we have evolved into, what shaped it and why, and what do we need to change for the future. Challenging the myth of 1916 is part of that process. – Yours, etc,


Canary Wharf,


A chara, – Further to Frank McNally’s acknowledgement of the progress of Na Piobairí Uilleann (An Irishman’s Diary, September 24th), he is not quite correct in his analysis of the dramatic change in the fortunes of “piper hibernicus”.

On June 8th, 1900, the Dublin Pipers’ Club was founded. Two pipers who helped to set up the first meeting and who both worked in Dublin Corporation were Eamonn Ceannt and Pat Nally. Pat Nally, pipemaker and acknowledged expert piper, is said to have chaired the first meeting. Nally also wrote a tutor for the pipes. Ceannt, of 1916 fame, who received his first lessons on the pipes from Nally, was years later to entertain Pope Pius X in Rome. Another piper of note at that time was Tom Rowsome.

Pat Nally was a Gaelic scholar, a member of the Gaelic League when it was set up in 1893, and a founder member of the Celtic Literary Society. Nally was known to entertain Gaelic League members with tunes from his pipes at their meetings whose attendance would have included PH Pearse and Douglas Hyde. Along with Eoin MacNeill and Edward Martyn, the philanthropic landowner, he attended the “Mod” in Oban, Scotland, in 1898. This was the great Scottish Gaelic festival. Nally, representing the Gaelic League, was given a rousing reception when he played Irish airs on his uilleann pipes. The festival was attended by 3,000 Scotch Gaelic delegates from Scotland and beyond.

The Píob Mhór – bagpipes or war pipes – were part of the Irish landscape several hundred years before the uilleann pipes were in use. Pat Nally was also considered the foremost authority on the war pipes at that time, and he attended the annual Oireachtas cultural festivals as an authority on Irish dance.

In the late 18th and early 19th century, Nally was undoubtedly an inspirational figure in the cultural life of Dublin, as was his brother Tom Nally (playwright of Spancil of Death fame). His first cousin with the same name was the martyred patriot PW Nally, after whom the Nally Stand in Croke Park was called.

Pat Nally died in 1911 at the early age of 43 years at his home in Dublin. His colleague Eamonn Ceannt was shot in Kilmainham Jail in 1916.

Now in my more mature years and as a former bagpiper of over 20 years – whose father played the pipes for over 40 years and with an uilleann piper son – I am very conscious of those who played important roles in the musical and cultural life of our country. – Is mise,


Sycamore Drive,


Dublin 16.

A chara, – While I can fully understand Stephen Kearon’s pleasure at the remembrance accorded to his great-uncles by the opening of the World War One Memorial Park at Woodenbridge (September 23rd), as a fellow Wicklow man I cannot share his retrospective endorsement of John Redmond’s call to Irishmen to join the British Forces. In our rush to make amends to these long-forgotten local men, it is important that we remember the context in which they were recruited into the British forces.

The celebrated left-wing republican George Gilmore (1898–1985) was in no doubt that the thousands of Irish Protestants and Catholics who answered the call were all equally duped by their British imperial overlords, assisted on the unionist side by Carson and on the nationalist side by Redmond.

In an incident recalled to his friend Proinsias Mac an Bheatha in the early 1980s, and recorded by the latter in his book I dTreo na Gréine (1987), Gilmore told how in 1914 when travelling north by train from Dublin he saw the same British army recruiting poster in Amiens Street station and in Portadown. The only difference was in Dublin the poster showed churches being burnt by the “Huns” and the inscription underneath “Join the army and help to defeat Germany – the one great Protestant power”. In Portadown the same image featured but the inscription read: “Join the army and help to defeat Austria – the one great Catholic power”.

As a republican from a Protestant background, George Gilmore understood more than most the significance of the sectarian divisions in Ireland but he also understood how these could be exploited to support the interests of the British ruling class both at home and in their imperial wars abroad. – Is mise,




Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Stephen Kearon refers to “forgotten heroes of Co Wicklow” in relation to those who fought and some of whom died serving in the British army during the first World War. Merely serving or dying in a war does not constitute heroism. – Yours, etc,


Essenwood Road,


South Africa.

Sir, – Frank McNally (“Alphabet Soup”, An Irishman’s Diary, September 25th) reminds us of some of the endearing language usage of our former leader Bertie Ahern.

A favourite of mine is one quoted in your “This Week They Said” in February 2008. Answering a question about his tax affairs in the Dáil, Mr Ahern said, “It is not correct, and if I said so, I wasn’t correct, so I can’t recall if I did say it, but I did not say, or if I did say it, I didn’t mean to say it, that these issues could not be dealt with until the end of the Mahon tribunal. That is not what Revenue said”. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – While driving on the M3 yesterday evening near Dunboyne my attention was drawn to a large electronic information board warning of “Possible Deer Ahead”.

I am delighted to welcome this new species of deer to our shores. – Yours, etc,


Clonmel, Co Tipperary.

Irish Independent:

The Irish, like the English, have a fine sympathy for the underdog, but believe me, teams like Cork and Tipperary can never be classed as underdogs when it comes to hurling.

But Kilkenny’s record since 2000 has been superlative and has given me, a Cul-Dub from the Forest of Dean, many of my happiest days in sport.

If you think that this language is hyperbolic, just watch the first half of the 2008 final, when Kilkenny beat Waterford (3-30 1-13).

Waterford had a strong team in 2008 and I thought that they might win it. But the performance of Kilkenny that day was virtually flawless in every position on the field.

We must treasure and celebrate excellence of this kind since it comes rarely in any lifetime.

We may think of Kilkenny as we used to think of Real Madrid in 1956-1960, with Henry Shefflin as the Di Stefano but surrounded by brilliant players on all sides. I congratulate Richie Power for two excellent matches against Tipperary. At this level, goals are apt to be decisive in close contests.

In favour of hurling (apart from the merit of the game itself) I would make the following points:

1. All the Kilkenny (Cork and Tipperary) hurlers are from Kilkenny (Cork and Tipperary).

2. No one is paid £59m for turning out.

3. Supporters on opposite sides (in many cases husbands and wives, fathers and sons) do not need to be segregated (an incitement to tribalism and hooliganism).

My only regret is that Ulster is sadly under-represented.

May I suggest a challenge match each year between the All-Ireland winners and a nine-county XV until the Northern counties can get their act together.

Dr Gerald Morgan

Trinity College, Dublin 2

State of our water services

I want to reference the constant complaints and objections over the water charges.

As the former owner of a water services company from 2007 to 2013 that offered engineering/inspection/cleaning services to local authorities, I am someone who has intimate knowledge of the condition of the water infrastructure across the country.

I can tell you that the lack of investment, care and maintenance of the infrastructure over the past 50 years is of breath-taking proportions and is something that reflects very badly on the Irish people.

This is the same right across the country.

In 2007, our company used connections with Swedish and Scottish water companies to offer maintenance programmes that were already in place in more advanced countries.

We found very poor uptake of the cleaning, inspection and repair services and many counties had no interest at all in maintenance, even though they had no maintenance programme at the time.

They simply didn’t have the funding and water services were not as important as other infrastructures.

Because of this, the water pipes across the country are now crumbling and dirty, and the infrastructure itself is falling apart.

Simon O’Connor


Co Kerry

Recovery? What recovery?

As an economist, I would like to ask, what are the criteria used by these economists, statisticians and government agencies in claiming that the Irish economy is now on an upward recovery trend.

Do they call it recovery when half of all small businesses in Ireland are closing down as non-viable concerns, with the consequent loss of jobs, while an ever-increasing number of citizens belonging to the vulnerable and low-income category are being mercilessly squeezed out of decent living standards?

Concetto La Malfa


Dublin 4

Prevention is better than cure

Over the past few years, I have been an avid reader of the Irish Independent, have never missed a single edition and I can say loudly that you have taken the lead in illuminating the myriad aspects of the Ebola outbreak.

I have just returned from my six-week internship programme at the World Health Organisation HQ in Geneva, when massive attention was being paid around the globe to this dreadful disease.

Let me offer my comments on Jason O’Brien’s excellent piece based on my limited experience.

First, as WHO Director General Dr Margaret Chan put it to the ‘New York Times‘: “WHO is not the first responder. Governments should have first priority to take care of the healthcare needs of their people. WHO is a technical organisation”.

Although the comments received the wrath of medical journals, such as ‘Nature’, which considered the massive deployment of 3,000 US military personnel, combined with UN involvement with a Security Council resolution as a damning indictment of WHO, Dr Chan’s comments reflect the reality.

It is true WHO could have done better – based on its pandemic planning and outbreak response to SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and the increased awareness of the threat of avian influenza – and that the response should not be left to non-governmental organisations and governments of the poorest countries in the world.

But people should not expect WHO to have a magic wand, or to act as an antidote to all the ills in the world.

Our 21st Century world is globalised, interconnected and interdependent.

It is digitally connected. Social media has increased communications exponentially. People’s mobility through porous borders has also increased in a way never seen before, making efforts to curb the threatening dangers of any disease of potential international concern a cumbersome task.

No matter how many health workers WHO contributes to afflicted countries, the attention should be focused on containment, prevention and on empowering indigenous people with the right knowledge and skills to tackle this smouldering disease.

As an Arab proverb puts it “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.

Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob

London NW2,


Magic of reading will never die

It seems that in this age of advanced technology, teenagers are reading less and less and the teenagers that do read are branded “swots” or “nerds”.

Books provide a healthy escape from the stresses of everyday life as a student.

While many teenagers and young people do read, there are still a large number that should be encouraged to do so.

This could be done by setting up libraries in schools or providing the young people with even one period a week to read.

Oh, if only I had read when a teenager. I’m now 63 and still trying to catch up. I never will; the older you get, the harder it is to keep the concentration going.

So, please teenagers, start reading now. It’s something you will never regret. No technology will replace the magic of reading.

Brian McDevitt

Glenties, Co Donegal

Irish Independent


September 28, 2014

28 September 2014 Royalty

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day. Off to pick up some books on royalty.

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down gammon for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.


Prince Nicholas Romanov expressed no nostalgia for the days of his imperial ancestors Photo: Associated Press

6:00PM BST 27 Sep 2014


PRINCE NICHOLAS ROMANOV, who has died aged 91, was the great-great-grandson of Nicholas I, Tsar of all the Russias from 1825 to 1855, and the oldest member of Russia’s former imperial family.

The tall, French-born prince shared the name of Russia’s last tsar, Nicholas II, and was recognised by most members of the extended Romanov family as head of the imperial house.

Unlike some of his kinsmen, however, the prince expressed no nostalgia for the days of the tsars. On the contrary, he was an avowed republican, regarded by some of his relations as almost a Leftist, a label that caused him some amusement. “I am not any ‘-ist’,” he told an interviewer, “but I am a lover of history and I have learned from it.”

Possibly as a consequence of his antimonarchist credentials, Prince Nicholas was a key adviser to Russian officials preparing the funeral in 1998 of Tsar Nicholas and his family, who had been murdered by the Bolsheviks along with the tsar’s personal physician and three servants in 1918. Their remains (minus those of the last Tsar’s fourth daughter and his only son, Alexei, which were only discovered in 2007) had been exhumed in 1991.

Tsar Nicholas II, the Tsarina Alexandra and their children, c 1910

It was Prince Nicholas who proposed that the entire group, from the tsar to his footman, be buried together in the St Peter and St Paul Cathedral in St Petersburg, rather than separately to reflect their different social stations in life. He saw the ceremony as a “moment of repentance, understanding and mutual pardon” which might usher in a new Russia “at peace with its past”.

However negotiations about the ceremony brought to the surface splits between the prince and members of the exiled dynasty who consider the post-communist Russian government an extension of the Bolshevik regime and seek a restoration of the monarchy.

Some refused to attend the ceremony, most prominently the prince’s cousin, Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, a rival claimant to the status of head of the family, who announced that she would refuse to attend unless those she insisted on calling Bolsheviks “kneel and repent for their sins”.

Prince Nicholas advised officials on the funeral in July 1998 of Tsar Nicholas II and his family

The split between the two factions dated back to 1992 when Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich, the former Romanov pretender, died in Miami. As his only child, the Grand Duchess claimed primacy as the oldest descendant of Tsar Alexander III, her great-grandfather, who ruled from 1881 to 1894. She disputed her cousin’s rival claims on the grounds that he and some of his forebears had flouted the rules of imperial succession by marrying beneath their royal station. Supporters of the prince, however, pointed out that the tsars had excluded women from the succession in the late 18th century.

Maria Vladimirovna’s claims are supported by some monarchist groups, but are disputed by, among others, the Almanac de Gotha on European royal families.

The prince, however, preferred to look to the future. After leading representatives of the Romanovs at the funeral of the last Tsar and his family in July 1998, he urged Russians to look forward, not back: “I have always said that not only were we burying the tsar and those who died with him, but we were also burying the most bloodstained pages of our past. Leave them to scholars. Russians should look forward.”

Nicholas Romanovich Romanov, was born on September 26 1922 at Cap d’Antibes, France, the eldest son of Prince Roman Petrovich and his wife Princess Praskovia Dmitrievna (née Countess Sheremeteva). His great-grandfather, Nicholas Nikolaevich, was a younger son of Emperor Nicholas I.

Prince Nicholas was brought up in a Russian environment, using the Julian calendar, surrounded by Russian staff and educated privately according to the imperial Russian curriculum. He was bilingual in both French and Russian.

In 1936 his family moved to Italy, where during the early years of the war, they found shelter with King Victor Emmanuel III. In 1942 Nicholas was invited by the ruling Fascists to take the throne of Montenegro. He declined. When King Victor Emmanuel fled Rome after an unsuccessful attempt to negotiate peace with the Allies behind Mussolini’s back, Nicholas and his family went into hiding.

After the war ended, in 1946 Prince Nicholas moved to Egypt, where he became involved in the tobacco trade and worked for an insurance company.

Returning to Italy, in 1951 he married the Countess Sveva della Gherardesca. He worked in Rome for the Austin Motor Company until 1954 when, following the death of his brother-in-law, he took over the management of his wife’s estates in Tuscany, where he bred Chianina cattle and produced wine.

In 1979 he founded the Romanov Family Association, which now includes among its members the majority of the male-line descendants of Nicholas I, and of which he was elected president in 1989. Neither Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich nor Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna joined the organisation.

For most of his life Prince Nicholas was a stateless person who travelled abroad on a letter issued by the King of Greece. He finally became a citizen of Italy in 1988.

He made his first visit to Russia in 1992 and the same year, with other family members, he created the Romanov Family Foundation, a charitable organisation which aims to safeguard Russian cultural and religious traditions and provides help for orphanages and hospitals in Russia.

Prince Nicholas and his wife had three daughters.

Prince Nicholas Romanov, born September 26 1922, died September 15, 2014


Exterior facade of the Scottish parliament building in Holyrood, Edinburgh. Exterior facade of the Scottish parliament building in Holyrood, Edinburgh. Photograph: Iain Masterton / Alamy/Alamy

Andrew Rawnsley correctly supposes that voters in England would have no enthusiasm “for another tier of politicians drawing another bunch of expenses” to manage at provincial level functions now performed by central government or its agencies (“You think that the union is secure for a whole generation? I would not be so sure, Mr Cameron”, In Focus). But he is not correct if he is assuming that more elected politicians would be required.

The royal commission on local government, the last group to look at the matter systematically, proposed in its 1969 report that representatives of the elected local authorities within each province would be appointed by those authorities to carry out, on their behalf, functions that could most effectively be carried out at provincial level.

What would voters have to object to about that? With that in mind, two decisions are now needed. The first is to determine the geographical limits of the eight or nine provincial boundaries required. The second is to begin a gradual process of devolving to provincial level some of the functions central governments, past and present, have most obviously mismanaged.

Greater London would be a good place to start that devolutionary process because the essential elements of a provincial system already exist there. It is evident, to take just one example of many, that putting together a London-wide bid for additional school places and then ensuring that the individual London local authorities, from which this bid derived, have the necessary funds to provide those places would be far better done by people to whom local electors and parents have access.

Sir Peter Newsam

Thornton Dale

N Yorks

Andrew Rawnsley needs only to look back to Scottish local government, before the advent of the Scottish parliament, to find to answer to English devolution. Scotland had very effective regional councils and district councils that superseded the old county and burgh structures.

It was radical but it worked. No additional layers of governance were involved. However, the new regions were based on functional realities, not historic boundaries that had long since lost their meaning. Grasp the thistle, England!

Roger Read



In all the rhetoric about representing peoples’ views, the feature absent from all debate about the constitution, including the Observer leader (“Scotland has spoken. Now all voices in the union must be heard”), is voting systems.

“All voices in the union must be heard”? No chance of that in Westminster and local government elections, or in “English MPs for English laws” with a first-past-the-post voting system. Here in north Herefordshire, for years, this system has excluded the views of anyone who does not vote Tory. No candidate has ever canvassed my vote or needs to. The current MP, Bill Wiggin, has been a shoo-in for years.

No one in Westminster, least of all David Cameron and his Tory ministers, is interested in creating a voting system in which the views of electors across Britain can be fairly represented.

The Scottish parliament and Northern Ireland and Welsh assemblies have systems of proportional representation where all votes count, but the systems were chosen for a different reason: to reduce the possibility of any one party having overall control.

Any English assembly would be similarly elected by some form of proportional representation, and the resulting power sharing would not allow the Tories free rein in England as would “English votes for English laws”.

Little surprise it has been kicked into touch.

Dr Robin C Richmond



Youth Social workers cannot always help vulnerable families without the funds they need. Photograph: Photofusion/Rex

As an experienced social worker, I feel dismayed at the lack of context around your piece headlined “Social Services failure puts 5,000 children back in care each year” (News). I am sure that many children and families do feel unsupported when returning from care but I am equally sure that this is not through deliberate neglect but because local authority children’s social care departments have to make difficult decisions about where to spend the money they have available.

I know from personal experience over many years that the workload of childcare social workers continues to increase in line with increased demands but without corresponding increased resources. The demands of admin and recording, assessments, court reports etc have increased and deadlines have to be met. The need to “get it right” places enormous strain on workers . There is too much to do and not enough time, staff and money for it all to be done to the required standard.

Robert Haigh


Yes or no, we’re all in shreds

I read Kevin McKenna’s piece “How can you console a heartbroken and angry daughter? You can’t” with dismay (News). My daughter is the same age as Kevin’s. Her Scottish heart has been pounding with pride equal to that of Kevin’s daughter Clare’s as she campaigned for a country she fiercely loves and desperately cares about. My daughter was one of the 55% of Scottish voters who was given the wretched word “no” with which to express her passionate hopes.

Perhaps, like Kevin’s daughter Clare, she was influenced a little by her Scottish father’s deep belief in what makes Scotland strong, both as a nation and as an economy. I understand that Mr McKenna and his daughter are in shreds. We all are. Our nationhood, our identities, our love for our country, have been brutally polarised in a process that threatens to embitter us all. Mr McKenna should beat his pen into a ploughshare and consider the fact that, in a democracy, it is not just the most raucous voices that demand to be heard.

Imogen Kerr

via email

How to save the planet

Desmond Tutu does not address the main reason why all the climate change talks have failed to cut greenhouse gas emissions (“We fought apartheid – now climate change is our global enemy”, In Focus). In order to cut emissions, we would have to also cut our standard of living, dramatically reducing energy-intensive activities such as air travel, meat consumption and car use. And we know most people will not vote for that.

Carbon pricing, green taxes, renewable energy, energy conservation and other technological improvements may have slowed the rate of increase in fossil fuel consumption, but they have not reversed it.

They would only solve the problem if they reduced our consumption so much that huge quantities of easily accessible fossil fuel remained in the ground. With a growing world population moving towards western lifestyles, it is clear that is not going to happen. Therefore, if we are serious about preventing extreme climate change, the world’s governments have to remove emissions from the atmosphere by planting billions of trees and by investing in carbon capture and storage and carbon scrubbing. We also need to research and test methods of geo-engineering, meaning artificially cooling the planet.

Richard Mountford



Plug into innovation

Stimulating greater demand among consumers for better designed, more energy-efficient white goods is the best way to incentivise manufacturers to produce them (“Forget smartphones. It’s time for a smart washing machine”, Catherine Bennett, Comment). Our research with the Institute for Public Policy Research demonstrated that switching to energy-efficient white goods could save all the households in the UK up to £2bn a year.

The current dearth of energy-efficient appliances means that consumers now face a double hit from rising energy bills. This is because they have to pay for the extra energy used by their inefficient appliances along with more money to subsidise energy infrastructure construction than would not otherwise be necessary.

The government should introduce tax credits for the purchase of energy-efficient appliances or a scrappage scheme for inefficient ones. The smartphone market proves that greater demand stimulates innovation and competition while benefiting the consumer.

Andy Deacon

Global Action Plan

London WC2

Beyond the realms of pop

Thank you Paul Morley for articulating so well what I felt more than 40 years ago when I realised that “classical” music spoke much more to me than any other form (“Pop belongs to the last century. Classical music is more relevant to the future”, New Review). The misconceptions and hostility I encountered for being “different” were astonishing. I will keep a copy of this piece to shove in the face of the next person who suggests I am narrow-minded for not restricting myself to British and American commercial music produced in the last few decades.

Mark Hebert

St Ives



If the UK allows MPs elected in England to double as English assembly members at Westminster, why should we not give the MPs we elect in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland a similar dual role? Given the preponderance of England’s population, it may be reasonable for English MPs to use the Commons as their Assembly building, while other nations/provinces retain assembly buildings nearer home.

What doesn’t seem reasonable is for poorer outlying populations to have the extra cost and bother of electing an extra tier of assembly members if English constituencies can get by with one. Why should my Swansea or Gower MP not speak for me in both Cardiff and London, if sessions are suitably timed and better use made of the long recess?

What we really lack in our half-cock social democracy is any effective public representation of the economic, social and cultural life that underlies politics. What I’ve missed in my own working life is not so much a say in local or national governments as any voice in the corporate and departmental decisions that govern what we do from day to day and who get’s what for it.

I’m no longer a member of any party or union but have been sent a TUC document called “Workers on Board”, which seems a step in the right direction.

Greg Wilkinson


I agree with Chuka Umunna (Interview, 21 September) that our second parliamentary chamber should be a senate-style, fully elected body. And while we are considering a modern, more democratic constitution we need to explore the advantages to ordinary people, of the United Kingdom becoming a Republic.

A referendum on whether the UK wishes to become a republic would stimulate the political engagement Scotland’s referendum on independence generated, and give us, for the first time in our history, a say in the political structures that govern us.

Dianne Stokes

Wells, Somerset

Now that a clear majority north of the border has comprehensively rejected Scottishness, surely it is time for us to have an established church in North Britain? The Episcopal Church of Scotland would be ideal for this role and it would be only fitting were the Queen to appoint one of their Bishops to sit in the House of Lords alongside their Anglican colleagues.

John Eoin Douglas


Some comfort to Katy Guest (“Some things, only a man can explain, 21 September) with regard to sexual harassment of women. At a football match last Saturday a chant started up among some young male fans on the terrace “Get your tits out for the lads”. However, this was countered by other (male) fans making loud sarcastic comments, such as “Oooh a woman”, and “Have you never seen a woman before?” The chant died, and the group did not return to it. I think that the message is starting to get across to ordinary men that this sort of juvenile behaviour is not to be tolerated in the modern world.

Liz White

Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire

Military action in Iraq or Syria is wrong. It will result in innocent people being maimed and killed. This will, in turn, make more people join the extremist movement against the West. Even more people will join up when they see the West doing nothing against Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine yet happily bombing Arab countries.

Mark Richards

Brighton, East Sussex

I was ill prepared for Jonathan Meades’ column (“Will no one stop the march of localism?”, 21 September), in which he managed to be offensive to just about everyone he could think of, not just the Scots. Your readers of a Bullingdon (or BNP) persuasion will no doubt have found this hilarious, but most others will have found his nasty racist outpourings intolerable and utterly out of place in a supposedly serious and decent newspaper.

Mike Wright

Lancaster, Lancashire


A federal Britain is being suggested by some (Jeff J Mitchell)

People have a right to a voice on English regionalism

THE Balkanisation of England is not a good idea for the reasons outlined by Camilla Cavendish (“Releasing the federalist genie risks conjuring up a UK of little Napoleons”, Comment, last week). She is right that the widely promoted regionalism may be flawed and the public probably have no real wish for it. Are people not entitled to some consultation on this very important issue?
Dr Andrew Goudie
Wirral, Merseyside

Cavendish writes: “What looks good for democracy on paper does not always work in practice.” The public, I think, are wise to all this. I visit family and friendsin Britain frequently and have never known a period of such frightening cynicism, or such contempt for politics and the political classes, and alienation from government and the democratic system. Structural reform is not going to repair it.
Larry Rushton
Maignaut-Tauzia, France

COME THE RESOLUTION The result of the Scottish referendum raised two serious issues. The first is the question of English votes for English laws: this is what in popular parlance is described as democracy. The second one is about devolving tax-raising powers to the Scottish parliament: this will resolve the problem of who is going to pay for all the promises made by Alex Salmond.
Nigel Denton
Littlehampton, West Sussex

MISSING THE PARTY AA Gill writes that there was no sense of joy in Edinburgh after the “no” vote on the basis of visiting a few pubs in the city centre (“That morning-after feeling is all part of being a Scot”, Focus, last week). He was looking in the wrong place. If he had been in the suburbs and the surrounding countryside he would have heard the pop of champagne corks as the “no” voters quietly celebrated in their homes. The sense of joy was palpable among the majority of patriotic Scots who have no truck with the narrow divisive politics of the nationalists and had no wish to follow them into the economic abyss.
Alan Black

In what other context could the clear result of the democratic vote of an entire people be characterised as a failure? What are we supposed to do — go on having referendums until Gill gets the vote he wants? No, it was the right result: our great country is still securely part of another one and we can have more powers. As Alistair Darling said in his generous speech: “The silent have spoken.” Indeed we have, and maybe one day Gill will join us instead of moaning from the sidelines.
Peter M Smith
Linlithgow, West Lothian

After a hotly contested referendum campaign, it was heartening to see that a service of reconciliation was held at St Giles’s Cathedral in Edinburgh last Sunday. The first minister chose not to attend the ceremony, despite his protestations that after the referendum the nation had to come together. Salmond should lead by example, and his absence spoke volumes about his sincerity — or the lack of it.
Lindsey Savage
Cruden Bay, Aberdeenshire

Clearly Gill has been away from Edinburgh too long. Its streets are not cobbled, but some are paved with setts. And what does he mean by the “granite wall of the city”? The capital is not built of granite, except for the setts. Also it is “the New Town”, not New Town.
Steuart Campbell

You published a large picture of Hadrian’s Wall along with a caption saying that “the nations on both sides of Hadrian’s Wall would benefit from a less-centralised state”. (“Loosen up Britannia”, Focus, last week). I was born north of the wall in Northumberland. As the Scots invaded the county repeatedly over several centuries and tried to conquer it, people in Northumberland and northern Cumbria take our English nationality very seriously and are insulted when the old Hadrian’s Wall euphemism is used for the border with Scotland.The structure is nowhere near Scotland, being a long way from the border and almost 90 miles in east Northumberland.
Dr Jim Innes
Darlington, Co Durham

Only boots on ground can crush Isis

I have never believed Isis could be contained — let alone destroyed — without involving our ground troops (“Obama ‘sees need for ground war’ as Kurds flee Isis”, World News, last week). There is a vast difference in the experience and equipment America and Britain can deploy compared with Iraq’s virtual part-timers. This must be done quickly, if need be, with the co-operation of the Syrian government, to discourage recruitment by Isis. The same effort must be put into destroying the propaganda machine that wins gullible youths.
Edward O’Brien
Coaley, Gloucestershire

Isis poses far more of a danger to the Middle East’s Sunni regimes than it does to the West. Let them deal with the threat. Our involvement should be restricted to telling the Saudis to stop playing the destructive sectarian card against “apostate” Shi’ites. This does require the West to swallow its pride and acknowledge that Bashar al-Assad, Hezbollah and Iran are not our enemies.
Yugo Kovach
Winterborne Houghton, Dorset

Tony Blair’s latest thoughts on Isis are that boots on the ground will be required — quite probably ours since he also urges us to support America in whatever it decides to do. Once again he claims that the 2003 invasion of Iraq is not responsible for the situation today. The man is becoming increasingly delusional.
William Wilson,
London SW11

Universities challenged

THE universities highlighted in your article “The £30,000 degrees that don’t net a job” (News, last week) are also leaders in providing opportunities for students from black, Asian and minority-ethnic backgrounds. Rather than question the value of those institutions, it would be more profitable to consider whether some big employers and City firms are ignoring the talent of their graduates by perpetuating the recruitment practices criticised in the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission’s latest report, Elitist Britain?. This research highlights the outcomes and disadvantages to the economy of employers using unpaid internships and recruiting from a very small number of universities with the most socially exclusive student profiles.Pam Tatlow
Chief Executive, million+

Second best
You write approvingly that 80-90% of graduates from Oxford and Cambridge secure good jobs or go on to further study within six months. I find it surprising, perhaps scandalous, that 10-20% of our brightest young people do not do so after three years at our “best” universities. An efficient use of £30,000?
Dr Martin Price
Dinas Powys, Vale of Glamorgan

No NHS cover-up in Wales
In Camilla Cavendish’s opinion piece “Releasing the federalist genie risks conjuring up a UK of little Napoleons” (Comment, last week), she claims that an offer by Sir Bruce Keogh , medical director of NHS England, to conduct an inquiry in Wales was “flatly rejected”. In reality NHS England stated in February this year that Keogh “has not offered nor has he been asked to take part in an investigation in Wales. That, quite rightly, is an issue for the NHS in Wales.”The NHS in Wales is more open, transparent and is subjected to a higher level of scrutiny than any other health service in Britain. Mortality rates in Wales are published on a quarterly basis and the latest figures demonstrate clear improvement. Wales is leading the UK in the development of a universal case note mortality review system, which looks at the medical records of every patient who has died in hospital. To therefore suggest the Welsh NHS is covering up high death rates is utterly ridiculous and completely without foundation.
Mark Drakeford
Welsh Minister for Health and Social Services

Salmond can’t have it both ways on devo max

I cannot take seriously any opinion expressed by Ferdinand Mount, if he can blame Fred Goodwin for single handedly ‘bringing the British economy to a juddering halt’, while ignoring every other director of every other bank, The Bank of England, Lehman Brothers, Standard and Poor, Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and many more.

Scott Ritchie

I am Welsh,but I have lived in Scotland for nearly 30 years,and I dearly love this country.However I was aw appalled by the way that the YES supporters hijacked the Scottish flag,especially in George Square,Glasgow following the referendum.I have always considered the Saltire to be the symbol of Scotland and all who live here,but now if there is to be true reconciliation,I feel that Scotland needs another flag as to me the Saltire is now a mark of devision.

Charles Ellis

Most commentators seem to have missed a key point about the additional powers to be offered to Scotland following the ‘no’ vote. During the televised interview of Mr Salmond by David Dimbleby which took place a few days before the vote, Mr Salmond clearly stated that what was being offered by David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Milliband was ‘not devo-max, not even devo-plus, and in fact an insult to the intelligence of Scottish voters’. This should therefore be the yardstick by which the new powers to be granted should now be judged. You can’t have it both ways, Mr Salmond…

Chris Rowe
Glenfarg, Perth and Kinross

I am shocked at some of the pathetic comments you printed regarding the SNP and it’s allies which included the Greens ( totally peaceful) during the campaign, in the 21/09/14 letters page. The true nature of the BT campaign was shown on Friday evening in Glasgow by the fascist mob threatening to ‘burn Glasgow to the ground for voting for Independence’. I was in the city for a meal and the square was a celebration of everything that was good about the Yes Campaign, singing and celebrating even though it was a defeat. Early in the evening a mob of over a thousand triumphalists thugs entered with only one point, to attack young women, causing a riot. As stated after you printed an article last week that the No campaign was frightened of the Yes campaign, I ‘e’ mailed you to state my wife’s car was keyed because she had a Yes sticker on her car. I was an undecided, probably No till I noted the hatred and bile from some of the BT campaign. Why do you continue to print spurious comments about the Yes Campaign, are you ‘Feart’ of the future.

Ed Sneider


After a hotly contested campaign in the referendum, it was heartening to see that a service of reconciliation was held at St Giles’s Cathedral in Edinburgh last Sunday.

The first minister chose not to attend, despite his protestations that the nation had to come together. Salmond should lead by example, and his absence spoke volumes about his sincerity — or the lack of it.

Lindsey Savage
Cruden Bay, Aberdeenshire


I have been reading The Sunday Times since I was 12 and I am now hitting 60. My current stand-out contributor is Rod Liddle. His “Let us pray… if you want, up to a point. No pressure” (Comment, last week), referring to Anglican religious doubt was, as ever, clever and funny. Candid, too. Mother Teresa, late in life, spoke of her early doubts regarding her religious calling. As have prominent Anglicans and the Scottish Episcopalian Richard Holloway. Many people do not like Rome’s intransigence on the issues of the day, be it abortion, gay marriage, divorce, and more, but such immovability is a strength in itself as recognised by one billion adherents.

Charlie McGuire
Rothesay, Isle of Bute


Hot topic
I live in the southwest of France and, yes, the summers are more reliable than in Britain but the winters are much colder (“Cash for winter fuel goes to retirees in sun”, News, last week). The temperatures here range from 0C to 14C from December to March. The British government wishes to ban payments for countries with an average temperature higher than the UK but fuel costs here are just as expensive, if not more so, than in Britain. The fuel allowance is part of a pension paid for by my national insurance contributions of 45 years.David SchofieldDuravel, France

fair deal We may be wealthy in terms of our quality of life but we are not so financially. Making the fuel allowance taxable would be fairest to all.
Joan Bunting
Roussillon, France

Warm front
The Department for Work and Pensions said: “Winter fuel payments are intended to encourage older people in Britain to keep themselves warm.” Indeed so. The payments appear in people’s bank accounts not when the end-of-winter fuel bills are due but just before Christmas so that they can be used to keep warm with extra helpings of pudding and port. It means there is just that much less available to spend on the better insulation of homes, fuel-efficient boilers and perhaps even free wool and knitting needles.
Trevor Pateman

Political office
Rather than selling the capacious historic War Office to a developer for short-term gain, would it not make more sense to have it converted to service apartments for the use of MPs (“Old War Office in £300m demob”, News, last week)? This would have the advantage of not selling off the family silver, and help to end the public perception that MPs exploit rules on housing allowances and capital gains.
Lorraine Samuels
Councillor for Oatlands Weybridge, Surrey

On your bike
To plug the increasing NHS costs — not least caused by obesity— Ed Miliband is proposing a mansion tax. To tackle obesity, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence is proposing TV-free days and cycling to school (also, with so many earning less than a living wage, affordable transport is essential and it doesn’t come more affordable than cycling). Wouldn’t a better way of raising revenue be to increase fines for law-breaking drivers? In Denmark and Sweden, road fatalities per 100,000 motor vehicles stand at 5.7 and 5.1 respectively compared with 6.2 in the UK, and they have income-related speeding fines.
Allan Ramsey

Cut price
Hunter Davies was robbed when he paid £50 for his push lawnmower (“Saving energy is a pushover with my hand lawnmower”, Money, last week). I just paid £29.99 for the same mower and got triple Nectar points as well.
Roger Powell
Hadzor, Worcestershire

Heading off trouble
At long last Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools, has realised what every state school teacher has known for years: that pupil disruption is the biggest single cause of underachievement in the classroom (“Ofsted chief slams lax heads”, News, last week). But the solution is not more boot camps. Head teachers must be given the power to remove serious troublemakers without having to accept another in return, as currently happens in the miscreant merry-go-round.
Stan Labovitch
Windsor, Berkshire

License to view
With reference to the Glass House column (Magazine, September 14), a television licence is needed to watch or record live TV on any device. It is also not the case that in June 2m households told TV Licensing they didn’t need a licence. This figure is the total number of households and businesses that have told us they do not need a licence. The column stated that young people no longer watch live TV, but the Ofcom data quoted actually shows that they still spend two-thirds of their viewing time watching live or recorded TV, which needs to be covered by a licence. Overall, less than 2% of households watch catch-up TV only, so do not need one.
Claire Wotherspoon
TV Licensing

Brigitte Bardot, actress, 80; Hilary Duff, singer, 27; Peter Egan, actor, 68; Mika Hakkinen, two-time Formula One world champion, 46; Sir Jeremy Isaacs, TV producer, 82; Ben E King, singer, 76; Helen Shapiro, singer, 68; Jon Snow, TV news presenter, 67; Naomi Watts, actress, 46; Jodie Williams, sprinter, 21

1066 William of Normandy lands at Pevensey, East Sussex; 1865 Elizabeth Garrett becomes Britain’s first female doctor; 1884 Marks & Spencer founded; 1928 Alexander Fleming discovers penicillin; 1978 John Paul I dies 33 days after becoming Pope; 1994 the ferry Estonia sinks in the Baltic, killing 852


Labour’s proposed mansion tax will have a £2 million threshold Photo: Alamy

6:57AM BST 27 Sep 2014


SIR – Any working-class people who think they will not be affected by the mansion tax need to take a look at inheritance tax.

Many years ago, only truly wealthy people paid. Now, thousands of working-class people are liable simply because they dared to buy a house.

Frank Cherriman
Hove, East Sussex

SIR – Does Ed Miliband intend to carry out a complete revaluation of all residential property in England and Wales in order to identify those houses worth more than

£2 million?

Ian Palmer
West Kirby, Wirral

SIR – Many houses worth more than £2 million are listed as being of architectural or historic interest. In a number of cases, they have been in the same family for many generations.

These owners do not necessarily have high incomes and many are already struggling to meet their statutory obligation to keep the buildings in repair. Bearing in mind that they have to pay VAT on these repairs, a mansion tax could prove to be the death knell for these buildings, which are such an important part of our national heritage.

Peter Britton
Barcheston, Warwickshire

SIR – Fed up with David Cameron’s broken promises, I was starting to turn into a floating voter, but this latest idea of introducing a mansion tax has quickly returned me to the fold.

How long before a mansion tax turns into a wealth tax and the £2 million threshold is reduced to a level that will affect us all? Not long, I would think.

Michael McNeill
Upper Basildon, Berkshire

Poppies row on row

SIR – I, too, have marvelled from afar at the wonderful ceramic poppy cascade in the moat of the Tower of London and would love to visit.

The last poppy will be planted on November 11 this year, which will be very poignant; but thereafter all the poppies will be removed. Surely something so beautiful should be left for another few months to offer more of us the opportunity to see it.

Carol Harrington
Birstwith, North Yorkshire

SIR – In response to Nigel Embry, it is possible to order the poppies from the Tower of London by phone: 0303 7701914. They cost £25 plus postage (£5.95) and will be dispatched between mid November and February.

Josephine Clouston
Market Drayton, Shropshire

DLT prosecution

SIR – Lawyers can claim a pyrrhic victory with the prosecution of Dave Lee Travis, the shamed DJ, for a string of alleged sexually motivated assaults. He was found not guilty on 12 counts in January. This week he was found guilty of assaulting a young woman, but not guilty on a second indecent assault charge and the jury was discharged after it was unable to agree a verdict on a count of sexual assault.

With only a three-month suspended sentence handed out, how can the Crown Prosecution Service and police justify their decision to prosecute under criminal law – or claim this was a prudent use of scarce legal and financial resources?

Paul Harrison
Terling, Essex

India reaches for Mars

SIR – To criticise a poverty-stricken country such as India for sending a probe to Mars is to fail to appreciate what the Indian government clearly realises. A space programme can bootstrap the country’s technology. Aiming for the Moon and Mars will be an inspiration to the rising generation.

Professor David A Rothery
The Open University, Milton Keynes

Newsnight knot

SIR – Evan Davis is to start presenting Newsnight. Please may the BBC insist that he wears a tie?

Michael Cheetham
Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex

Steady graze: the presence of livestock in the uplands helps keep bracken under control  Photo: Alamy

6:59AM BST 27 Sep 2014


SIR – In reply to Beth Wilson’s letter (September 24), bracken is spreading at the rate of 3 per cent annually in Britain. There are a few reasons for this.

In two decades of flawed environmental policy, there has been a massive reduction in grazing livestock in the uplands. Cattle, particularly, and sheep grazing in the hills help to control bracken spread, but there have to be sufficient numbers of stock.

In many hilly areas, spraying with the herbicide Asulam was used. It causes minimal damage to other species, but the European Union banned it two years ago.

Politicians and local authorities have ignored the health risks this spread poses. An overabundance of bracken leads to an increase in ticks, which carry Lyme disease. Ptaquiloside, the cancer-inducing toxin present in bracken, ends up in our drinking water, much of which comes from areas surrounded by bracken.

Suzanne Greenhill
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Ground crew prepare a Royal Air Force (RAF) Tornado GR4 fighter bomber for return to the United Kingdom at RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus Photo: 2009 Getty Images

7:00AM BST 27 Sep 2014


SIR – We are to use our ancient but effective Tornadoes in air attacks against an amorphous and highly mobile enemy. Best of luck to the RAF; but surely they would like some support from an aircraft carrier and some Harriers?

It seems strange to decommission an aircraft carrier and, almost the next week, to go to war. I understand they have not started ripping apart HMS Illustrious just yet; and there are several Harriers, I am told, sitting in hangars awaiting disposal.

Would it not be better to scrape some sort of force together from these wasted assets, rather than wait for our new carrier to get its wings, say in 2022?

Lt Commander Nick Bradshaw RN (retd)
Kingsbridge, Devon

SIR – We have a huge aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean (Letters, September 26). It is called Cyprus. But it is a disgrace we do not have a conventional carrier in service.

James B Sinclair
St Helier, Jersey

SIR – I have two comments. The first is that a fanatical ground-based force will never be defeated by air power alone.

Secondly, one has to wonder whether the rise of Isil would ever have been possible had Saddam Hussein remained in power. Unintended consequences, perhaps?

Lt Col John Landau (retd)
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

SIR – Haven’t we learnt that bombing without adequate ground support produces more enemies than it eliminates?

N H Conrad
Tandridge, Surrey

SIR – Harold Macmillan, Alec Douglas-Hume and Edward Heath all had first-hand experience of being in uniform.

It’s not just Ed Miliband who might benefit from three years’ military service, though the politicians today know there’s no guarantee they’d be commissioned.

Richard Stancomb
Malmesbury, Wiltshire

SIR – The Iraqi government has placed Isil-held oil refineries off limits for coalition air strikes.

I don’t know if they have found the right balance between short-term military objectives and longer-term economic ones. I would guess, however, that what makes sense in Iraq would also do so in Syria.

We are not seeking permission from the Syrian government for attacks there, but surely we should be seeking the same stewardship of the interests of the Syrian people.

John Riseley
Harrogate, North Yorkshire

SIR – After arming the Kurds, do we imagine that they will happily go back to being ruled by the Iraqis, Turks or Iranians?

I believe the outcome will be a new country called Kurdistan. This will cause even more conflict in the area.

Len Foot
Fareham, Hampshire

SIR – We are playing into the hands of these terrorists. They are neither Islamic nor a state – that is part of their trick. As the Prime Minister correctly states, Islam is a peaceful religion.

We should refer to them as terrorists and nothing else.

Henry Brewis
Ipswich, Suffolk

SIR – Allison Pearson writes that it has taken the desperate situation of the hostage Alan Henning to make Muslims speak out against extremists.

I am sure that over the years I have heard and read constant condemnation by horrified Muslims of atrocities committed in the name of Allah.

I suspect that many people have chosen to ignore the views of the vast majority of that faith, leading to racial tension and mistrust.

Gwyneth Mitchell
East Cowes, Isle of Wight

Irish Times:

Irish Independent:

Madam – I refer to Brendan O’Connor’s article “Leo should make a deal with the Irish People” (Sunday Independent, 21 September) regarding the state of our health services in Ireland today.

Why would anyone who has had direct experience of being on a trolley in A&E exposed to a corridor full of similar patients and all passing human traffic, contemplate voting Fine Gael next time?

My very recent experience delivered me no privacy, no dignity, care not to be proud of while on a trolley for 12 hours where I nursed up to 13 years ago.

The distress experienced by me is unimaginable and will be unforgettable.

But the surgical team looking after me were wonderful and through their interventions saved me.

And I also want to praise the excellent nursing care I received on the wards I was on and am very grateful to them all.

They are working so hard it’s so shameful what politics has done to them.

It’s too late for “deals”. It’s radical action that is required.

Could most of those waiting in the waiting areas to be seen have gone to Doc On Call?

Should people be allowed walk in off the street now in these chaotic times to an emergency unit if they have not been in some way deemed to need treatment first?

How do people manage who don’t live near hospitals?

The lack of visits by Enda Kenny to the emergency units in our hospitals is perfectly understandable. It would be bad politics for him to do so.

It would tarnish his Mr Fix-It image and make him liable for the inhumanity which causes suffering to all who have sudden ill-health and have to avail of the services.

Leo Varadker may be a doctor and the Minister for Health but he needs Enda Kenny to show up and own up and make it his problem too. But my guess is that that will never happen.

Dympna Walsh,


Co Louth


Northerners’ blunt truth

Madam – The stereotypical image of the blunt northerner taking the side of the face off us southerners with some close-to-the-bone remark when they feel we are talking off the top of our heads came to mind when I read Eilis O’Hanlon’s article on our attitude to the Scottish referendum (Sunday Independent, 21 September).

She is indeed close-to-the-bone when she tells us that the attitude of too many of us to the Scottish referendum reflected our own obsessions and was ‘the equivalent of UKIP, telling our neighbours what to think and how to vote’.

But she does not leave it at that. She also takes a swipe at not alone the Scottish parliament but ‘every parliament in every other country’ as being ‘stuffed to the rafters’ with ‘time serving, toadying mediocrities’. While being careful not to accuse Eilis O’Hanlon of such, I should gently remind her that too many of the media to which she herself belongs were not behind the door in lecturing the Scots. Too many of the same media also did a fair bit of toadying to said political mediocrities during the boom. During that time they told the rest of us to look the other way when this country was being bankrupt by the decisions of a small number of its most influential, time serving citizens.

Much more of the blunt northern, close-to-the-bone truths needed to be repeated then but was not.

So I congratulate Eilis O’Hanlon now for telling us all some home truths and encourage her to keep it up.

A Leavy

Sutton, Dublin 13


Power of love, not the love of power

Madam – I agree with Michael McDowell (Sunday Independent, 21 September) that Eoin MacNeill  was correct to cancel the 1916 Rising due to the forged Castle Document.

The false report that the Germans had landed  and it was only a matter of holding Dublin until they arrived was a further deception. Next the prospect of success was zero. The British went on to land knock-out punches on three empires, Kaiser Germany, the Austro-Hungary Empire and the Ottoman Empire. The British were supported by their dominions and WW1 was payback time. This important context is not taken into account by Mr McDowell. There was a Commonwealth conference of ‘blood-brothers’ in the 1920s and the Statute of Westminster 1931 was the outcome. Michael McDowell should use his legal expertise to explain the Statute of Westminster as most historians have not grasped it. My own take on it is that henceforth Britain was to be ‘first amongst equals’.

The relationship was changed from the love of power by an empire to the power of love uniting equals in the Commonwealth. The survival of Britain in WW2 proves the power of love as the dominions came to her aid voluntarily.

Stephen Fallon,



History unravels all the time

Madam – Michael McDowell says we cannot unravel history (Sunday Independent, 21 September), but surely history is constantly under review and being re-examined. A spate of books over just the last twelve months has given us a much improved understanding of the causes of World War I.

Mr McDowell criticises John Bruton’s comments regarding Ireland’s independence, yet research shows that this independence was achieved by correct constitutional means.

John Redmond and the Irish Parliamentary party (IPP), which then held the balance of power at Westminster, put the Home Rule Bill on the statute book in early 1914.

At the December 1918 election the electorate dismissed the IPP,  replacing them with Sinn Fein. Westminster proceeded with Home Rule by first splitting Ireland into North and South with the Ireland Act of 1920. In June 1921 the King opened the Belfast parliament with the famous words “…may the Irish people, North and South, under one parliament or two, as these parliaments may themselves decide, work together in common love for Ireland upon the sure foundation of mutual justice and respect.”

Perhaps with these words ringing in their ears, representatives of Sinn Fein, finally travelled to London to resolve the details of Home Rule. When the resultant Treaty was put to the people in June 1922, the electorate made another volte face and dismissed Sinn Fein, 78 per cent voting  for those parties supporting the Treaty.

Will Mr McDowell kindly tell us the difference of substance between the 1914 Home Rule Bill and the 1922 Treaty, and were these differences worth the 513 killings of members of the RIC, 270 members of the armed forces and hundreds of Irish citizens, as well as the bitterness and mythology of violence that still lingers in the psyche of Ireland?

Charles Hazell


Co Tipperary


Lovely chicken nearly caused tears

Madam – Eating a lovely cooked chicken, bought in a shop, tender and nice, but I nearly cried when I saw the little ‘wish-bone’ — so small.

I thought what a short, shut in, life probably not a lot of space to move about, and then death for our enjoyment.

Kathleen Corrigan,


Co Cavan


Alzheimer’s article was timely

Madam – It is timely that the Sunday Independent (21 September) had articles on Alzheimer’s as it is becoming more common in Ireland and in the Western world, and is, for good reason, a feared disease.

 It is not fully known yet what causes the disease, and the scary fact is that younger people in their 40s and 50s are reported in the last few years to be getting early onset Alzheimer’s, which means it is more urgent than ever to find a way of stopping it.

 M Sullivan,



It was so sad when  Twink lost Teddy

Madam – It made sad reading (Sunday Independent, 21 September) that Twink’s little miniature Yorkshire terrier, Teddy Bear, had been stolen. She was devastated and in grief. This also happened to me too about two years ago with my miniature Yorkshire terrier, Toto.

I also had her micro-chipped and she wore a disc, but I never saw her again and it took me many months to get over the grief. She was so tiny and nervous I hated her being away from me because I understood her nervousness and understood her. There are people going around stealing pedigree pets to sell for a few bob.

Terry Healy,


Co Kildare


McDonagh can have his viewpoint

Madam – It was with a heavy heart that I read Emer O’Kelly’s piece “McDonagh makes a scene about Irish films,” (Sunday Independent, 21 September).

The McDonagh brothers are allowed their own identity, and own story — as everyone is.

I relate more to the McDonagh’s than I could ever to someone like O’Kelly, not least because of their actual grasp of the complexity of the human condition.

And The Beauty Queen of Leenane was written by someone who had an acute understanding of that part of the world — Martin McDonagh. He has more of an understanding of the west of Ireland, and its beauty and its ugliness, than O’Kelly. How offensive to claim otherwise.

We hate people exposing ugly truths about ourselves, but that play is shot through with an interesting truth — the dark side of the Irish psyche, which is ever-present. We are lucky in that there is a foil to that darkness, also — which both McDonagh brothers also write about so well.

I am very glad to have them as part of our nation, and was so disappointed that someone like O’Kelly continues to write from such an ignorant point of view.

John Michael McDonagh was expressing his point of view about so many Irish films — he’s entitled to, as an audience member, and as a filmmaker, and writer.

Siobhain Ni Cathain,



All Moore Street is historically vital

Madam – I refer to doubts being raised over the exact location in Moore Street of the surrender of the 1916 Provisional Government of the Irish Republic (“Re-writing history,” Sunday Independent, 21 September).

I am the record holder of all meetings held by the Save 16 Moore Street Committee. You report that our decade-old campaign is ‘to have part of Moore Street turned into a museum’. This is not correct and is misleading.

The campaign from its outset called for the creation of a 1916 historic cultural quarter in honour of those who fought for Irish freedom.

Nor is there a record of the committee ever making a ‘judgement call,’ as contributor John Conway claims, on merely protecting numbers 14 to 17 Moore Street — now the derelict 1916 National Monument. He goes on to state that number 16 ‘may be the wrong building but it’s certainly not the wrong street’.

On this point we can all agree.

James Connolly Heron, Save 16 Moore Street Committee,

Dublin 2.


Come together Irish musicians

Madam – Re Declan Lynch’s article on Johnny Duhan (Sunday Independent, 21 September) and the ever more constricting situation of radio airplay for Irish-based performing musicians: Irish radio, with it’s wall-to-wall US and UK music playlists, is  progressively squeezing Irish-based performing musicians right out of existence.

It is time now for these artists to come together as a matter of urgency and compel Minister Alex White, the national broadcaster and Irish independent radio executives to stop sitting on their hands and pretending they can do nothing.

Victor Caprani,

Co Clare


The danger of sharing our data

Madam – The nation’s serious bank details, telephone numbers, email addresses, home addresses, PPS numbers, and the like, are to become available to the world courtesy of Irish Water

holding our personal data. They say they will keep all of our vital business stuff  ‘private’, except to those they can ‘trust’ and to whom they will allow certain careful leakages, but will we be opened up to a brave new world? (Gene Kerrigan, Sunday Independent, 21 September).

With a little clever snooping by uncle Tom Cobley an’ all, will my potential benefactor, Fernando Omatete, who lost all of his family through a coup d’etat  in the African country of Sawmecomin, be able to put the $65 million dollars he promised me into my Irish account for safekeeping without having to ask me for boring codes and passwords?

Thanks to Irish Water, this could be a winner for so many of us here in this little Eire of the welcomes. How could anyone say we’re wet behind the ears?

Robert Sullivan,

Bantry, Co Cork


Water costs not justified long-term

Madam – When the Water Board was set up in March 2013, it was allocated the sum of €539 million for the installation of meters and the repair or replacement of all damaged piping, and the bringing of the purification plants up to the standard required so as to insure all people in the Republic are assured clean safe water.

The total households in Ireland for the year 2011 was 1,654,208 plus 4,035 communal establishments. If we assume each household and communal establishment pay €5 per week for the supply of water, it comes to roughly €58,450,000 annually. If the pipes, once repaired or replaced, last at least 20 to 30 years; and the updating or replacing of the purification plants comes to fruition at some stage, that will leave just the staffing for plants and repair gangs to be paid for.

In  short,  these charges should not go on forever and certainly not for as long as is being suggested at the moment.

   Don’t stand idly by. Now is the time to have a showdown and to demand to be shown figures for everything that it is said will be happening. Wake up Ireland. Don’t ask. Demand.

Fred Molloy,

Clonsilla, Dublin 15


Our hygiene falls short of standard

Madam – It was with real sorrow that I learned in the Sunday Independent of 21 September that only two thirds of the Irish population feel that the free water allowance from Irish Water is insufficient for their daily needs.

This confirms my suspicions that a third of Irish people do not wash nearly often enough.

Tim O’Sullivan,

Dublin 5


There’s no such thing as free water

Madam – Gene Kerrigan (Sunday Independent, 21 September), raises extremely serious questions about the way any personal details submitted to Irish Water are to be dealt with, and indeed, who may or may not be given access to them in future.

However I would ask Gene and the Anti-Austerity Alliance, et al, what do they mean when they say “water charges are double taxation as I’ve already paid my taxes and I am entitled to expect free water delivered to my home?”

Do they really expect our taxes to pay for the instillation of a water infrastructure throughout the whole country, up and down every boreen in the State? Or do they, as I suspect, only really mean to the large urban areas with large populations?

If you happen to live down one of these boreens you may, whether you pay taxes or not, bore your own well, put a pump on it, pay for the electricity to operate it and service it regularly.

As a rural dwelling tax payer I don’t expect to have this service provided free of charge to me, nor do I expect to have to continue to provide it free to my urban cousins through my taxes.

Joe Lynch,


Co Laois

Sunday Independent


September 27, 2014

27 September 2014 Chemist

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day. Off to the chemist and finally get the medicine for Mary.

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down chicken Kiev for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.


Christopher Hogwood – obituary

Christopher Hogwood was a conductor and scholar whose extensive research led to a resurgence in interest in early music

Christopher Hogwood, conductor

Christopher Hogwood Photo: THIERRY MARTINOT

6:22PM BST 25 Sep 2014


Christopher Hogwood, the conductor, who has died aged 73, was the founder of the Academy of Ancient Music, one of the first and best-known period instrument orchestras. His aim, he said, was to perform baroque and classical music in the style and spirit in which it was originally heard in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Based on Hogwood’s extensive scholarship, Bach was now played on violins with gut strings rather than steel; Beethoven was heard without vibrato; and Mozart piano concertos were brought to life on fortepianos. Meanwhile, valveless horns and baroque violins brought a lighter, crisper sound to the concert hall than audiences were used to.

The Academy was first heard in 1973; before long a collection of decidedly de-romanticised Mozart symphonies established the group firmly on the musical map. Hogwood’s timing could not have been better. The major labels had long-since recorded most of the classical repertoire, often several times over; now they competed to reproduce the most authentic sounding music. In 1985, Hogwood’s LP of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons rubbed shoulders in the pop charts with Prince’s Purple Rain; the latter was named best film soundtrack at the Brit awards, while Hogwood’s disc was best classical recording.

For Hogwood the early music recording bonanza brought not only an escape from what he dubbed the “brown rice and open-toed sandals” image that had hitherto accompanied the drive for authenticity in music, but also fame and substantial royalty cheques, which he ploughed into a remarkable collection of historical instruments that included clavichords, spinets and virginals.

He was by no means the only musician to march into the utopian paradise of the early music landscape. While John Eliot Gardiner and Nikolaus Harnoncourt were promoting their brands of authenticity, and Roger Norrington was presenting his Experience weekends dedicated to a single work, Hogwood became a name more widely known to the public at large thanks to a parallel broadcasting career that included 12 years presenting The Young Idea on Radio 3.

In addition to campaigning for performances on original instruments, which he once compared to the Campaign for Real Ale, Hogwood also succeeded in drawing pure, original sounds out of modern instruments. “He didn’t have the greatest conducting technique,” Ernest Fleischmann, who invited him to conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1981, told People magazine in 1986, “but he’s the most stimulating force in years.” Meanwhile, Lincoln Center in New York declared that there was “never an unsold seat for a Hogwood programme”.

Christopher Hogwood playing an early harp (GODFREY MACDOMNIC)

For Hogwood, who was once described by his own publicist as “the von Karajan of early music”, life was as much about scholarship as it was about performance. He published books on Bach and Handel, prepared monographs and edited urtext editions, and made a speciality of tracking down handwritten scores in an attempt to establish what the composer’s original intentions had been before editors, publishers and performing tradition had intervened.

Unsurprisingly, there were critics. While Bernard Levin, in the course of fulminating against period instruments, once suggested tongue in cheek that Hogwood “should be chopped up small and his bones boiled for consommé”, the most barbed attacks came from fellow travellers in the early music world, with the harpsichordist Nicholas McGegan reportedly declaring that the tall, gangling, blue-eyed, blond-haired Hogwood was “really called Hogweed, after the plant: tall, uncontrollable and dangerous to brush against”. Hogwood himself was similarly no stranger to the art of the direct comment, on one occasion denouncing the fashion for audience participation in Handel’s Messiah. “The whole purpose of having a chorus in Messiah is that it represents the public,” he complained. “You might as well have a dance-along Nutcracker.”

Christopher Jarvis Haley Hogwood was born in Nottingham on September 10 1941, the eldest of five children. His father was a scientist and his mother a legal secretary. He was educated at Nottingham High School and The Skinners’ School, Tunbridge Wells, taking piano lessons but not pursuing music seriously.

He read Classics and Music at Pembroke College, Cambridge, taking lessons from Thurston Dart, Raymond Leppard and Mary Potts and spending one summer touring the country in a former laundry van to demonstrate a collection of medieval instruments. He then spent a year in Prague on a British Council scholarship studying the harpsichord with Zuzana Ruzickova.

Back home, Hogwood and a group of friends helped David Munrow to set up the Early Music Consort of London, a group that performed renaissance and medieval music, recorded the themes for the BBC series Elizabeth R and The Six Wives of Henry VIII and continued until Munrow’s death in 1976 at the age of 33. In the meantime he also pursued keyboard studies with Gustav Leonhardt in Amsterdam.

For some years Hogwood played continuo for Neville Marriner’s Academy of St Martin in the Fields, an orchestra that sought to demonstrate that a serious classical symphony could be played by an ensemble of 25 instead of 75. But in 1973 he went his own way, setting up the Academy of Ancient Music, which takes its name from a group which met at the Crown and Anchor tavern in the Strand and existed from 1726 to 1792.

The new ensemble was heavily championed by Peter Wadland, a producer from L’Oiseau Lyre label, who ensured that it had a steady stream of recording work. Soon the Academy was appearing at the South Bank and, in 1978, made the first of eight appearances at the Proms over the next two decades.

By 1980 — after overcoming objections from the Musicians’ Union to Hogwood’s hiring overseas musicians — the Academy was firmly riding the bandwagon of what Andrew Porter later dubbed “historically informed performances”. There were themed titles under the Folio Society banner, carefully aimed at middle England, such as Venice Preserv’d (music by Monteverdi, Gabrieli and Vivaldi); Music at Court (Byrd, Dowland and Bach); and Music from the Armada Years, which included works by both Spanish and English composers from the reigns of Philip II and Elizabeth I respectively.

Hogwood was never shy of giving an authentic spin to well-known works. Joan Sutherland was the unlikely soloist in Handel’s Athalia, while Emma Kirkby joined a pared-down rendition of Messiah that would have been barely recognisable to the nation’s large-scale choral societies. A generation later Cecilia Bartoli stepped up to the microphone in Handel’s Rinaldo, while Beethoven’s five piano concertos were recorded with Steven Lubin using instruments that the composer might have recognised but a modern-day concertgoer was unlikely previously to have seen or heard.

Overseas, Hogwood took his interpretations to the New World, adding the artistic directorship of the Handel and Haydn Society in Boston, Massachusetts, to his portfolio in 1986, while his appointment as principal guest conductor of the Basle Chamber Orchestra in 2000 meant discovering the neoclassical and neo-baroque compositions of the 20th century, many of which had been commissioned by Paul Sacher, the Swiss music patron. Suddenly, sitting among recordings of Purcell, Haydn and Schubert, there were discs of jazz ballets by Martinu, concertos by Stravinsky and suites by Bizet. So mainstream had the early movement become that even the Royal Opera House opened its pit to him — including, in 2001, a sold-out run of Haydn’s L’Anima del filosofo starring Bartoli. Yet Hogwood could turn on a sixpence when the occasion demanded. A record company did not want Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony pared back to a small orchestra? He would deftly double the forces (in the style of a von Karajan orchestra) and declare it to be a historically accurate re-creation of a “festival” orchestra. “The results are splendid,” he announced.

In 2006 Hogwood handed over the baton of the Academy of Ancient Music to Richard Egarr ; four years later he was appointed professor of music at Gresham College, a post that dates back to the time of Elizabeth I, delivering six public lectures on “aspects of authenticity” in his first year alone.

Hogwood, who was once described as “only half-heartedly living in the modern world”, lived in a rented 1840s house in Cambridge surrounded by books, watercolours and instruments. To mark his 70th birthday in 2011 a group of friends and colleagues published The Maestro’s Direction: essays in honour of Christopher Hogwood. He was appointed CBE in 1989.

Hogwood, who described his faith as being somewhere between Anglican and Catholic, had a 15th-century house in Tuscany and a 14th-century chateau at Aveyron, in the south of France, where he kept two donkeys: Paco and Rabanne. Sy Montgomery, the American naturalist and author, named her pet pig after him, penning a memoir, The Good, Good Pig (2006), that achieved brief notoriety. When the porcine Hogwood died, the musical Hogwood placed a link to its obituary on his website.

Hogwood was separated from his civil partner, the film director Anthony Fabian, and is survived by three sisters and a brother.

Christopher Hogwood, born September 10 1941, died September 24 2014


No. no, Jonathan Myerson is wrong again (Letters, 25 September). Dogs obviously vote on orders from their owners, but felines are independent to a cat. The reason the Queen purred down the line to the PM was to remind him she also is independent of all parties, including the nasty one led by David Cameron.
Sean Day-Lewis
Colyton, Devon

• I have long advocated the renaming of the Bank of England (Letters, 26 September) but would prefer the designation Bank of Britain, permitting us to call it BoB for short.
Jeremy Peat
Roslin Glen, Midlothian

• For a’ that and a’ that, / Thank Stevie Bell for a’ that (If, G2, all this week).
George Phillips
Crail, Fife

David Cameron David Cameron speaks during the debate to decide on approval for air strikes in Iraq. Photograph: Parliamentary Recording Unit via Associated Press Photograph: Uncredited/AP

As I hear the sabres rattling, I continue to think it utter madness for the UK to meddle again in the Middle East (Britain’s involvement in the new Iraq war is a doomed and dangerous gesture, 26 Septermber). War mongering does not win votes in the long term. As in Iraq, where it was always against the wishes of the majority of our country, this would be a complete disaster. Sadly and ironically, we would not be in this situation if Saddam was still in power – the lesser of two evils? Do they not realise that ISIS are encouraging us to respond to the beheadings in order to escalate further?

Rightly or wrongly, many Americans come across as trigger-happy, maybe to preserve their new oil interest in Iraq. This increases hatred for the US. As we have recently seen in Gaza, indiscriminate bombing does not solve underlying problems.

The key has always been, and must remain with, the local Muslim countries which are all desperately worried about the Isis regime and what its barbaric philosophy could mean to them as it spreads into their countries. Why not scale up reporting on this and encourage them? If the US wants to help sensibly it should use its massive influence and negotiating skills to encourage these countries to work together in a more high-profile way. It must also find a way of including Iran, which is a key player in this. It should support these countries, not lead them.

We desperately need some statesmanship – doing what is right for the future and not what seems popular right now – which has been conspicuously lacking over recent decades. I am not alone in thinking that the mould needs to be broken on Middle East thinking. Let it be us that do it while we still have credibility and respect. We have a massive multicultural heritage to draw on.
David Reynolds

• So Cameron has his Falklands moment at last. With only months to the election, and with no domestic policy to speak of, apart from shrinking the state back to 1948 levels and matching Ukip on immigration, he is forced to resort to war. Yet again, as Simon Jenkins says, Britain will demonstrate “our incompetence in trying to recast” the politics of the Middle East. Is Miliband so frightened of the rightwing media he cannot offer the obvious anti-war argument? Hasn’t history given us enough examples of the disastrous effects of US and UK interference? Anyway, since when has the indiscriminate blowing up of bodies been less medieval and barbaric than beheading?
Bernie Evans

• Why do we feel the need to get involved and still have the capacity to interfere in a war some 2,000 miles from home? This capacity not only includes a substantial airforce, but also sovereign bases on a sizeable chunk of Cyprus. This is not our fight. Yes, three UK citizens have been kidnapped, with one executed. We should look at all reasonable options for their release, but it must be acknowledged that they all chose to go to such a volatile area.

We are one of the richest nations on earth and still a leading advocate for liberal democracy and basic human rights. However, back home, there is still glaring underinvestment in our NHS, welfare and housing. The argument that we cannot afford to spend more on these is so glaringly exposed by the simple riposte of our military prowess to interfere on other continents.
Dave Packham

• No talk of the deficit when money is endlessly available for killing in wars. It was ever thus.
Keith Richards

• Only a short week after a vote on Scottish independence during which one of the points made by the yes campaign was that we didn’t feel the need to be constantly bolstering England’s self-aggrandisement of foreign adventures, here we are again, off to war. Did I dream the whole thing?
Allan McRobert

• Prime ministers have regularly used war abroad to distract from constitutional matters or problems at home, as history shows. But that couldn’t happen today, could it?
Elizabeth Webster
Carnoustie, Angus

• A quick rummage through my memory suggests that Jim Callaghan was the last British prime minister not have started a war. Several successors had more than one each. I doubt that Bullingdon Boy David will fare any better than the others.
David Hardy

• The effect of of attempting to destroy Isis by annihilating its adherents is likely to be the same as that of the opponents of the early Christian church throwing believers to the lions. Every martyr generates double the number of new believers. When will we ever learn?
Mike Garnier

The BBC Radio 4 Today programme team: too complacent? Photograph: Manuel Vazquez for the Guardian The BBC Radio 4 Today programme team: too complacent? Photograph: Manuel Vazquez for the Guardian

The reason many of us oldies have stopped listening to the Today programme has nothing to do with its coverage of foreign news (Radio 4 foreign news often too distressing says Today editor, 26 September). Jamie Angus should know that his programme has become boring. Its presenters exude complacency in their voices. It’s a case of “take it or leave it because we know best” as if other broadcasters are somehow smaller fry, amateurish and less well informed since they don’t “set the day’s news agenda” as Today still claims to do. Today says its weekly reach is 6.7 million listeners. I am no longer one of them but not because of “difficult and distressing” foreign news. I prefer my alma mater, the World Service, and al-Jazeera, with foreign news warts and all.
Jack Thompson
Former BBC foreign correspondent, London

• It is time to change not the BBC licence fee but what we call it. Much of our media is owned by people who are not UK citizens, and who in the final result can decide what news is. The majority of the people in this country get their view of the world from the BBC. It has to be paid for. A freedom of information tax sounds better, and is I think a truer description.
Charles Cronin

• I would be less likely to turn off if the presenters’ questions and comments were shorter, allowing the visitor to make fuller replies.
Elizabeth Dunnett
Malvern, Worcestershire

• After covering its share of Middle East conflicts and “who rules Britain” disputes in the 1970s, Today’s sister programme The World at One was always know among the wags in the newsroom as The World is Glum.
Peter Mayne
BBC journalist 1973-2004, London

A woman wearing a niqab veil. Photograph: Scott Barbour/Getty Images A woman wearing a niqab veil. Photograph: Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Gaby Hinsliff would have us believe that she is tolerant of cultural fashion choices (Stop this bullying over what we can and cannot wear, 26 September). However, she wilfully ignores what it means to cover schoolgirls’ faces: the face-veil is no more just “a scrap of fabric” than a gag is, it is an iconic manifestation of an ideology which holds that women’s faces are analogous to their genitals as a source of shame which must be hidden from all men other than their husbands.

If it is a fashion choice, it is that of Isis, the Taliban, Boko Haram and al-Shabaab, who – along with our Saudi allies – brutally enforce this particular deletion of women from public life. Tolerating misogyny is one thing, but it is depressing that a certain patronising mindset seems to cover its own liberal face so it cannot see and challenge it.
Natalie Seeve

• Gaby Hinsliff deserves praise for picking up on human interaction methods as they apply to disabled people, but in discussing the niqab she picked the wrong disability. David Blunkett’s blindness would not disbar him from communicating with a niqab wearer, but Jack Straw’s deafness does.

When a constituent covered her mouth, he could not lip-read what she said and therefore he was unable to do his duty to her as an MP. Hinsliff reports on a petition which claims that what you wear “does not affect anyone else”. All full-face coverings deny deafened people the chance to engage with the wearer, so the school should be treating the matter as one of equality and discrimination, not against women’s empowerment, but as an offence against all hearing-impaired people. Deaf people’s numbers, incidentally, are likely to increase as people live longer.
John Starbuck

Sir Donald Sinden dies aged 90

Sir Donald Sinden was frustrated at what he saw as the limitation of the written word. Photograph: Lindsey Parnaby/EPA

Terry Philpot writes: When I once saw Donald Sinden in farce, some stragglers took their seats in the front row after the play had begun. Without batting an eyelid, Sinden broke off in mid-sentence, walked to the edge of the stage, looked down at the last of the group, said, “Thank you so much for coming this evening, madam, but as you are a little late, let me tell you what’s happened so far …”, proceeded to do just that and then turned back to continue the play.

Ion Trewin writes: As Donald Sinden’s editor for what became his bestselling autobiography, A Touch of the Memoirs, I recall his frustration at what he saw as the limitation of the written word. “When I tell it,” he would say, “I have voice and gestures. It’s not the same when all I’ve got is the printed page.” On one occasion he walked around his Hampstead Garden Suburb garden telling me to write down different versions of the same story to see if he had found the answer. Finally we thought we had a breakthrough. However, when he tried it on his wife, Diana, it failed to raise even a smile. Next day he telephoned me. “Stayed up half the night. Diana read it at breakfast and couldn’t stop laughing.”


Here we go again: have our leaders learnt nothing from the past and in particular the recent past and the Bush/Blair debacle?

All the evidence to date indicates that bombing and any other military involvement will just make things worse in the long term and strengthen the appeal of those so-called jihadists in Iraq and Syria and in the other parts of the world where they are carrying out their murderous activities.

 There will be an enormous number of casualties, most of whom are likely be innocent victims, women, children and the elderly, but then we are told that’s just “collateral damage” as if the victims are less human than the rest of mankind.

Surely negotiations for a peaceful solution via the UN should be our main strategy, including putting pressure on Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states and others to stop funding and arming the jihadists. In addition, surely the time has come to seek positive reconciliations between the different Islamic groups and the countries of the Middle East, including Israel and Palestine.

Mr Cameron, ignore the warmongers and right-wing extremists, particularly in your party, and get together with our European partners to press for, and fully support, the UN in pursuing a peaceful, negotiated solution.

Bill Askew

The problem is, we need to confront the evil of Isis for our own security but it is agreed that bombing alone will not succeed. We are in this situation largely because of the beheadings but the Foreign Office had warned people not to go to Syria and now, as a consequence of the warning being ignored, we are back into a military campaign.

We should not be involved in this. Instead, we should concentrate our efforts on internal security and work towards the Sunni states themselves carrying out the military action.

John Gordon

I’m with Mary Dejevsky (26 September) and ‘‘I simply don’t buy this’’ need to go to war again in Iraq (and possibly Syria) due to ‘‘a clear and present danger to the UK’’. By bombing foreign countries we are creating more enemies and increasing their desire to bomb trains and planes in the UK. Angry actions only ever lead to angry reactions. Would it be possible for the US and UK to redirect our military resources to more positive ends such as refugee welfare and ‘‘carpet-bombing’’ poorer countries with schools and health centres? I’d buy that.

Luke Mone

If the UK Government takes part in bombing raids there can be no doubt that we will be less safe here in the UK. There can be no doubt that such action will recruit for the Islamic militants. There can be no doubt that this is a misguided policy.

The choice is to talk, to cut off the supply of weapons, to offer humanitarian aid and make the Middle East a place fit to live in for all.  Why does it seem acceptable to use this area as a weapons’ testing zone and the people thereof as disposable? If we put half the resources that we devote to military action into peaceful alternatives the outcomes would be superior. Some in the UK complain of asylum seekers yet military action will ensure that their numbers will increase.

Peace is not a weak choice, it is a sensible sustainable policy – one the West has  yet to discover and implement.

Lee Dalton

The answer to the problems in the Middle East and Africa is to tear down the boundaries drawn by ignorant colonials who knew nothing about the tribes or their religions. Let the different groups form their own independent countries with their own leaders. Send in negotiators and money to help them. We have tried war, now give peaceful methods a chance.

Judy Basto

We need more women to study sciences

It is a real concern that the uptake of physics at A-Level is still so skewed in co-educational state schools.  There is, though, a bit of a myth that girls will only pursue sciences at A-Level if they are in an all-girl environment. Female pupil numbers are doing well in co-educational independent schools. It does help if the pupils can see a genuine gender balance in the teaching staff.

However much we may like to deny it, pupils choose subjects at least in part on their estimation of the adults they see in front of them. It’s a circular problem: we need to encourage more girls to take hard science degrees, so that there are more women in the science labs of all our schools.

Leo Winkley
St Peter’s School, York

Who owns the north sea anyway?

Nigel Morris reports that the MP Andrew Tyrie advocates that all North Sea oil and gas revenues should be paid to Scotland  (26 September). We have heard a lot about this subject recently, but is all North Sea oil and gas Scotland’s by right? Do we have separate territorial waters?

Colin Attwood
Lingfield, Surrey


Time to challenge Farage’s false claims

 I have just heard Nigel Farage on the BBC’s Today programme repeat yet again his false claim that 75 per cent of our laws are made by the EU. Why does this claim so often go unchallenged? No doubt he will be trotting it out again at Ukip’s party conference.

As a definitive study by the House of Commons Library established a while ago, the true figure lies between about 7 and 50 per cent, depending upon how loosely you define a law.

 Farage’s 75 per cent figure is so exagerated as to constitute a lie. It is very disappointing that no one either in print in the media or on the BBC seems to be well-informed enough to challenge it.

 The BBC has a particular responsibility here since Farage’s rise to fame owes a great deal to his disproportionate number of appearances on Question Time over a number of years, presumably due – at least at first – to his ‘‘entertainment value’’.

Francis Kirkham
Crediton, Devon


Nero and Farage have much in common

Just as the Scots turned their back on Alex Salmond’s independence in favour of a united kingdom, so I hope UK voters will not be seduced by the siren voice of Nigel Farage and others advocating isolation from the EU. His isolationist view recalls the headline, “Fog in the Channel. Europe cut off”. Only in collaboration with our European partners can we hope to resource, let alone feed our growing population. Our imperial past has ill-prepared us for our current pygmy status on the world stage, witness our minimal gesture in deploying forces over Iraq.

It is time for a little humility as we contemplate the ambitions of China, India and the Middle East, all of which dwarf our own self-regarding political mindset. In these uncertain times we need all the friends we can get. Ukip’s promise to cut overseas aid by some 80 per cent is exactly what we should not be contemplating at this or any other stage. Nero and Farage have too much in common for comfort.

Christopher Martin

Equality starts with education

As a student at my newly formed ‘‘Academy’’ I am very concerned about the standard of education being offered, particularly in the sixth form. How is it acceptable that many subject areas are continuing to fail their students annually?

This is especially true in areas such as languages and the sciences at my school. As well as this decline in grades, the diabolical lack of extra-curricular opportunities in most state sixth forms is shameful: only the debating society exists outside of my subject choices, which is usually disbanded by October due to lack of student engagement.

The overall lack of vision from most state sixth forms is also detrimental to student aspirations. There is simply no current process in place to help students reach their best university choices; no Oxford or Cambridge society, or any apprenticeships explained to their full potential.

Instead, students are left to drift aimlessly and are expected to do almost all the legwork to enter their university. This is particularly detrimental to students with unstable home lives, who have little support. I cannot personally conceive of the difficulty of doing my personal statement if I had not had the help of my family.

This is even more distressing when I look at the opportunities offered by private or grammar schools. I am deeply aware of the inequality in the educational sector, and this resonates to the core of inequality in the whole of society: equality of opportunity simply does not exist. If change does not occur at state schools then the injustices of modern society will continue, with an elite, who went to the best private schools and Oxbridge, continuing to dominate the most powerful positions in society. That’s why true equality starts with education, Ed Miliband.

Jack Harmsworth


Sir, I was pleased to read that Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief inspector of schools, is to concentrate on behaviour in schools (report, Sept 22). In 1996 I took early retirement from a secondary school in England and taught abroad for six years. In 2002 I returned and took teaching posts but, after becoming used to keen and polite students abroad, I found myself unable to deal with the bad behaviour. I started work at three schools but walked out of each after a week because of the stress of trying to deal with unruliness.

One or two badly behaved children in a classroom can prevent other children learning anything; it is a national disgrace and is due solely to the gutlessness of headteachers, unwilling to deal consistently with the problem. It is probably the reason so many teachers leave the job.

I have been offered other teaching jobs. However, when I have asked whether the school has a system to support teachers faced with bad behaviour, my question has been regarded as presumptious: who was I to question their methods? As I enjoy financial independence I have been able to turn down these posts.

Until this easy-to-solve problem is dealt with efficiently and firmly there is little point in any other educational initiatives.
Chris Price
Minehead, Somerset

Sir, How many people heaved a sigh of frustrated recognition on hearing that low-key bad behaviour in class interferes with pupils’ ability to learn? In my 30 years of teaching, that observation could have been made in any class, in any school, where I worked.

The trouble is that teachers are at least moderately intelligent and moderately well educated. Each tends to believe that their opinion, method or attitude is right. Creating a team out of a group of teachers is a skill that I never saw achieved in any of the four schools I inhabited.

Teaching is also a fairly solitary occupation. If, to feel successful, the teacher needs the good opinion of the pupils, there is a strong temptation to suggest “I’m a good guy, I’m a nice person. You don’t need to follow that silly rule in my classroom.” As soon as consistency breaks down, the battle is lost. If chatting, texting, chewing is allowed in one lesson, why not in
the next?
Elaine Whitesides
Market Harborough, Leics

Sir, As a son, husband and father of school teachers I have had 50 years of feedback on classroom behaviour. I have no doubt that Ofsted’s report, Below the Radar: Low-level Disruption in the Country’s Classrooms is correct in its assessment of the impact of this disruption on the education of children. Sir Michael Wilshaw may well be right that head teachers “should get out of the office”, but a bigger issue is parents. Unless a school and individual teachers have their commitment and support, pupils know that they can behave with impunity. No wonder low-level disruption is so prevalent.
Simon Tizard
Walton-on-Thames, Surrey

Sir, Sir Michael Wilshaw has advocated an increasingly assertive stance towards low-level persistent disruptive behaviour, which will undoubtedly lead to a rise in the rate of children being excluded from school. This organisation is committed to improving the future of children with ADHD. We know that 11 per cent of excluded children have ADHD, which is a treatable condition. We would like to see all children screened for this and other underlying mental health conditions after being given a second fixed-term exclusion. This intervention might be more effective in achieving Sir Michael Wilshaw’s aims than asking head teachers to get “out of the office and into the corridors”. Furthermore, it would also benefit “disruptive children” and those who learn alongside them.
Dr Susan Young
President, UK ADHD Partnership, London W6

Sir, Together with Olivier Branford, I wrote the research into the perfect breast, to which Carol Midgley refers (Times2, Sept 24). I was disappointed that, like lesser publications, she gives the impression the study suggests that Kelly Brook has the perfect breasts, when in fact we make no mention of Kelly Brook or any other “celebrity”.

There are many reasons why a woman chooses to have breast surgery — rarely trivial. As a surgeon, I do not judge, but it is my duty to guide and to deliver the best possible care.

Is Ms Midgley suggesting that strategies to try to remedy, rebuild or reconstruct are wrong? Feminism is surely about having the right to have control over your own body. I question why there is so much stigma attached to those who do choose surgery.

Sorry, Ms Midgley, I’m not a urologist, the “trajectory of the perfect male bulge” is for someone else to define.
Patrick Mallucci

London SW1

Sir, It seems the qualifications for being a Ryder Cup player’s wife are much less stringent than for being an actual player. It seems all one needs is to be a blonde.
Ken Broad
Church Aston, Shropshire

Sir, The death of the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire this week led me to reflect on The Pursuit of Love, by Nancy Mitford, in which Linda’s telephone number is FLAxman 2815.

Who remembers now the evocative names of the old exchanges? RODney, TIDeway, ARNold — all in London — and can anyone else name the book in which VERity 2352 is a number?
Kate Fearnley
London SE6

Sir, I was fascinated to see the footwear on display in the Times photograph of President Rouhani meeting David Cameron in New York. Rouhani is in Gucci loafers (which cost about €500) and our PM in what look like Tod’s slip-ons. Very casual for the UN. I wonder what other treasures Mr Rouhani concealed under his dull brown robes?
Lindsay Blair
London N6

Sir, Apropos the big four supermarkets (letters, Sept 26). Whenever I go into these places, I feel constantly that I’m doing battle with them, trying to suss out their latest ploys to confuse, cheat and outwit me. Prices up, down, all over the place; larger “bargain” packs more expensive than smaller versions; changing the colour of a can and rebranding it as improved and asking twice as much. As far as I can make out, Lidl and Aldi don’t do these sorts of things and are therefore seen as
Malcolm Mort
Liskeard, Cornwall


Space race: a father and son visit the Nehru Planetarium ahead of India’s Mars triumph  Photo: MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP/Getty

6:58AM BST 26 Sep 2014


SIR – How can India afford to launch a satellite into orbit around Mars at a cost of £45 million?

Recently India spent more than £200 million on a 597ft statue of Sadar Patel (1875-1950), the country’s first deputy prime minister, which at the time was the equivalent to more than two thirds of annual British aid to the country.

I thought that we gave money to India to try to reduce poverty there. But India appears to be far better off financially than Britain, as we cannot afford to fund our own space programme.

Wendy Davies
Poole, Dorset

Left: Anna Chancellor and Ed Speleers bridge the class divide; Harriet Walter as Lady Shackleton almost upstages the Dowager Countess (ITV)

6:59AM BST 26 Sep 2014


SIR – Allison Pearson suggests that there is a gender divide regarding Downton Abbey, with women everywhere loving it while men despair.

Here’s one woman who stopped watching it after the first few episodes – such drivel. Dudley Paget-Brown (Letters, September 23), you are not alone!

Jacqueline Cooper
Seaford, East Sussex

SIR – I sympathise with Mr Paget-Brown’s boredom with Downton Abbey. I feel exactly the same way about The Great British Bake Off.

Susan Gow
Overcombe, Dorset

SIR – I used to record Downton Abbey and watch it later so that I could fast forward through the horrendously long advertisement breaks.

I now fast forward through the whole programme, and find that it makes for much zippier watching.

Henrietta Boyle
London W4

SIR – I don’t agree that Downton Abbey is a bore, but I want to know when that blighter Thomas is going to get his deserts.

Christopher Cox
Warnham, West Sussex

SIR – I had the misfortune to state publicly that I found Downton Abbey dull.

I have since undergone extraordinary rendition and am awaiting trial under the Suppression of Heresy Act 1414.

Yours, as from an unknown location.

Pete Haslam
Gatehouse of Fleet, Kirkcudbrightshire

SIR – Downton Abbey is not at all boring. It provides a fantastic platform for anachronisms, incredible lines and nonsense.

Tosh bingo can be such fun. Spotted in the first episode of the new series: his lordship reading the royal edition of The Times (which was not available outside central London and certainly not in Yorkshire).

Charles Foster
Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire

Plan for devolution

SIR – Here’s my plan: devo max for Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland; Westminster becomes the Parliament for England; the House of Lords is replaced with a fully elected Senate, consisting of senators elected from the four nations in proportion to their population, plus their first ministers in an ex-officio capacity. The Senate decides all non-devolved matters, and requires a 60 per cent majority.

John Couch
Llansadwrn, Carmarthenshire

SIR – I would hate to degrade Westminster with its wonderful stateliness to a “junior level” (Letters, September 25).

Where primary legislative powers are devolved, a second chamber is necessary to check legislation. The Stormont Parliament, in Belfast from 1921 to 1972, contained a second chamber.

With a further transfer of powers to Holyrood, Westminster would be within its rights to endow a second chamber as well. Many Scots would, I am sure, be grateful.

John Barstow
Fittleworth, West Sussex

SIR – We should have four home-country parliaments whose MPs come together on British issues through technology when there needs to be a national decision.

That way, all MPs would be equal and nobody would have dual representation. There would be corresponding savings in administration and expenses.

Kevin Cottrell
Buckland, Oxfordshire

Cold-blooded objector

SIR – You report (September 24) that the development of a multi-million-pound tennis centre and golf course may be prevented because of a colony of newts.

Where I live, we have in the region of 4,000 objectors to a huge wind farm that is threatening our heritage, archaeology and landscape. After winning at the planning committee stage, we are now facing a hugely expensive planning appeal.

Has anyone got a spare bag of newts?

E C Coleman
Bishop Norton, Lincolnshire

A suitable name

SIR – Is it a coincidence that the gentleman suing Rod Stewart for breaking his nose at a concert with a souvenir football (report, September 25) is named Mostafa Kashe?

Geoff Riley
Sewards End, Essex

Taxed out of a home

SIR – The shadow chancellor has promised to protect investment in the NHS by introducing taxes on the so-called wealthy – a “mansion tax” on properties valued at more than £2 million, a new 50 per cent top rate of income tax and other unspecified taxes.

In Westminster, as with many parts of the capital, this would not mean the wealthiest funding Labour’s promises, but hard-working middle-class families being hit by extra taxes through no fault of their own. Average house prices in central London have recently topped £500,000, and in Westminster alone, 15,000 properties would be caught by the proposed tax.

So thousands of families who bought homes over the past decade or so, most of whom would not be able to afford to buy them today, find themselves liable to tens of thousands of pounds of additional taxes which they simply cannot afford, as a result of Ed Balls’s proposals.

This policy will jeopardise the recovery by squeezing the middle even tighter, and driving wealth generators out of Britain. Has Labour not learnt from the disaster of President François Hollande’s economic policies, which have seen £17 billion of assets transferred to Belgium alone?

Labour needs to think again, and Londoners, who will be disproportionately affected, need to make sure it does.

Cllr Philippa Roe (Con)
Leader, Westminster City Council
Cllr Nicholas Paget-Brown (Con)
Leader, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

SIR – Why is it acceptable for buy-to-let landlords, with many properties and an income, not to pay the tax, while retired Londoners in long-held homes must?

Andrew Wauchope
London SE11

SIR – If the under-occupancy penalty is called the bedroom tax, should the mansion tax not be known as the envy tax?

Simon Millar
Poole, Dorset

Police numbers

SIR – I have worked with colleagues to minimise the impact of budget cuts on police numbers and thus on the security of the people of the Thames Valley. The HM Inspectorate of Constabulary report, Policing in Austerity, showed that numbers were reduced by 2 per cent in this force compared with 11 per cent nationally.

We are not poised to lose 400 officers (report, September 22). We need to cut another £20 million by 2018, but I and the Police and Crime Commissioner will do all we can to maintain police officer numbers.

Sara Thornton
Chief Constable, Thames Valley Police
Kidlington, Oxfordshire

Picking poppies

SIR – There was an interesting article in The Daily Telegraph earlier in the year about the Tower of London moat being turned into a poppy field (Letters, September 25). This included instructions on how to buy a poppy at a later date (

I followed the instructions and on August 5 purchased my poppy.

Margaret Cotton
Barnardiston, Suffolk

Bottled tradition

SIR – Another universally recognisable feature of life disappears as Dairy Crest announces the phasing out of glass milk bottles (Business, September 23). Are there any great British traditions left now?

Robert Parker

Lack of aircraft carriers impedes a fast response to changing political scene.

Adams cartoon, September 25 2014: Ed Miliband directs an aeroplane piloted by David Cameron

Adams cartoon, September 25 2014 Photo: ADAMS

7:00AM BST 26 Sep 2014


SIR – Adams’s cartoon on Thursday drew attention to Britain’s complete lack of mobile airpower. One aircraft carrier in the Eastern Mediterranean would have provided a quick response to the political need for air strikes.

Roger Welby-Everard
Grantham, Lincolnshire

SIR – Peter Oborne (Comment, September 25) is right. Saudi Arabia, with its Wahhabi version of Islam, is the key problem to be faced in the Middle East. Successive American and British governments have ignored this issue, for the sake of transitory oil and defence benefits. As Mr Oborne says, the rise of Isil stems from Wahhabism, and thus a total revision of Middle East policy is required – and this has to include a mending of fences with Iran.

Ron Whelan
London W1

SIR – Whatever one’s views on military intervention, we believe that today’s parliamentary debate will be making a serious omission if it fails to address the effects of such intervention on civilians. Parliament needs to help end ongoing bombing attacks on civilians and get humanitarian assistance to those who desperately need it.

The war in Syria has dragged on for more than three years and the situation on the ground is more brutal than ever, with the Syrian government and more than 1,500 armed groups in action. Syrians live with daily devastation and fear caused by deliberate bombing of schools, hospitals and markets.

As humanitarian agencies, our mandate is to help them, but there are millions we cannot get aid to because of the continuing attacks by all sides, which also put our staff at risk. We must not forget the plight of these civilians, caught up in a war not of their making.

Britain has led the international aid response. We welcome this week’s pledge of humanitarian assistance for Syria and its neighbours. But the Government can save more lives by pushing for the enforcement of UN Security Council resolution 2139, which called for an end to indiscriminate attacks in Syria and for the safe passage of humanitarian assistance.

Dr Mohamed Ashmawey
CEO, Islamic Relief Worldwide
Laurie Lee
CEO, CARE International UK
Leigh Daynes
Executive Director, Doctors of the World UK
Chris Doyle
Director, CAABU
James Smith
CEO, Aegis Trust
Faek Hwaijeh
Chairman, Syrian Civil Coalition
Dr Rim Turkmani
Chairman, Madani Organisation

SIR – How many innocent civilians have been killed by American air strikes in Iraq and Syria? And will the anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist Left demonstrate against this activity in the same way and with the same fervour they showed against Israel when it was defending itself against an enemy with the same policy as Islamic State?

Eddie Young
London NW4

Irish Times:

Sir, – One has to feel sorry for Enda Kenny. Having failed to abolish the Seanad, it now appears that the Seanad may well abolish him. – Yours, etc,



Carrick on Shannon,

Co Leitrim.

Sir, – What this episode demonstrates conclusively is the hollowness of the claims made for “new politics” in the wake of the crash. The concept of civic morality is as alien to Fine Gael in office as it was to Fianna Fáil. Crony governance lives on in the shape of elite patronage and a posture of determined impunity at the highest levels of power. – Yours,etc,


Department of Sociology,

Maynooth University.

Sir, – Of course it is a stroke. How do we know this? We know this because if Fianna Fáil in government had behaved in this way, Mr Kenny in opposition would be on his feet in the Dáil, pink and breathless with outrage. – Yours, etc,


Rathgar Avenue,


Dublin 6.

Sir , – I don’t see the problem with our taoiseach’s nominations. Don’t all teachers have their pets! – Yours, etc,



Co Meath.

Sir, – The current furore is nothing more than a tantrum by people who hadn’t fully thought through the consequences of their actions in preserving the undemocratic obscenity that is Seanad Éireann.

Most ludicrous is the charge that John McNulty isn’t “hip” enough to serve on the cultural panel and debate such lofty ideas as seagulls stealing ice cream and other such nonsense. – Yours, etc,


Leopardstown Avenue,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – Perhaps John McNulty might have made a better choice by resigning his candidacy for the Seanad and maintaining his board post in the Irish Museum of Modern Art (Imma). He would at least have learned some cultural nuggets from the dormant oddities of the museum rather than their equivalent in the Seanad. – Yours, etc,


Westminster Lawns,

Foxrock, Dublin 18.

Sir, – Noel Whelan is right when he says that the NcNulty affair is “cronyism” and a “stroke” (“McNulty debacle exposes sorry tale of failure to reform politics”, Opinion & Analysis, September 26th). But when he gets up on his high horse and starts to call for “meaningful Seanad reform”, he loses a lot of credibility.

“Reforming” the Seanad, by having it directly elected and giving it more power, is just creating another Dáil. We already have one of those.

The Seanad is an expensive, powerless, talking shop for the insider elite.

All the reform proposals in the world will not make the Seanad relevant to the problems of this recently bankrupt country, which has many more politicians relative to population than similar countries.

Members of the media, who are now complaining about cronyism, should remember that during the referendum most of them supported the retention of the Seanad as a bolthole for their own cronies at the expense of the ordinary people of this country. – Yours, etc,


Shielmartin Drive,


Dublin 13.

Sir, – Lest there be any doubt, as per Paul Hickey’s claim (September 26th), it is not John McNulty himself who is the problem, it is the manner in which he, out of all the people who could be considered suitable for the appointment to Imma, was chosen that is the problem.

As is the fact that there wasn’t a vacancy in the first place but instead the Imma increased the size of its board from 9 to 11 specifically to allow the appointment of two Fine Gael nominees, which presumably had to be signed off by Minister for the Arts Heather Humphreys’s department.

What is also at issue is the moaning from other women candidates who seem to think it’s okay for one of them to be appointed just because they are women and for some reason we need “more” women.

So much for more women in politics bringing a different ethos.

Well, we don’t need more women if they are like the Tánaiste and too gutless to call out cronyism when directly faced with it, with her limp defence that it’s a matter for Fine Gael; or like the Minister herself, who seems to just sign anything put in front of her and takes her orders directly from Fine Gael head office via the Taoiseach’s office; or if they are like the failed Fine Gael candidates who seem to think just being women should be enough to give them the edge, with no mention of capability.

The only criteria for appointing anyone to anything is that the position is publicly advertised so anyone can apply, that the application process is transparent, that those making the appointment can be held accountable, as too should the person appointed, and that the best person, male or female, is appointed.

Old politics meet new politics, but same old politics. – Yours, etc,


Canary Wharf,


Sir, – The “McNulty Installation” at Imma must rank with Tracey Emin’s “My Bed” as one of the great headline-grabbing cultural events of recent times. Unfortunately the McNulty exhibition only lasted for 13 days and closed on September 25th. I wonder might Charles Saatchi be interested in this unique installation?

After all, “My Bed” was sold recently for £2.2million and I’m sure Imma could do with some extra funding. – Yours, etc,


Shandon Crescent,


Dublin 7.

Sir, –Jobs for the boys? Unabated – and undebated. – Yours, etc,


Elm Mount,


Dublin 9.

Sir, – Further to Neil Briscoe’s report (“Oil falls but pump prices remain high”, Motors, September 24th), motorists are being ripped off once more at the petrol pumps. He notes that despite a dramatic fall in the price of a barrel of oil in recent months, the average cost of petrol has not come down here, but has actually gone up! He maintains that we should now be paying 17 cent less per litre for our petrol and diesel.

What a difference 17 cent per litre would make to hard-pressed motorists, especially those who have long distances to commute to their place of work. Where are the powers that be – who have no hesitation in regularly raising motor taxes – when it comes to an anomaly like this? It was not surprising that the Irish fuel retailers, when contacted by your newspaper, preferred to remain silent. It goes without saying that they would up the prices at the pumps once there is any hint of a market rise.

It was also startling to read that Dermot Jewell, of the Consumer Association of Ireland, suspects that this disgraceful state of affairs is partially down to apathy on the part of consumers, who realise they have no power at the petrol pumps.

Come on then, motorists, show them this time. Throw off your lethargy and make your voices heard loudly on this latest affront to long-suffering car owners. – Yours, etc,


Janemount Park,


Sir, – John Bruton is right to question whether the rebellion of 1916 was the best course to an independent Ireland. The Easter Rising led to the creation of a state that for more than four decades presided over a failed economy, mass emigration, the systemic abuse of vulnerable citizens by religious institutions and did almost nothing to contribute to the downfall of totalitarian regimes in Europe. The campaign of violence that began with 1916 ended in the permanent division of this island, while the celebration and mythologising of a brutal War of Independence contributed to 30 years of sectarian slaughter in Northern Ireland at the end of the 20th century. Was it really worth it? – Yours, etc,


Ardenlee Avenue,


Sir, – The application by John Bruton of the classic formula of the just rebellion theory to Ireland in 1916 is simply not relevant. The theory applies to a sovereign state; not to a country that is governed by another country and is occupied by the military forces of that country.

Moreover, the military character of that rule became more evident, in August 1914, when a Defence of the Realm Act placed Ireland under a form of martial law.

The Irish Party, itself, in April 1918 acknowledged that the well-intentioned attempts of John Redmond to solve Ireland’s political aspirations by trusting in English promises had failed. John Dillon and Joseph Devlin of the Irish Party joined Eamon de Valera and Arthur Griffith of Sinn Féin to issue a statement from the Mansion House which read, “the passing of the Conscription Bill by the British House of Commons must be regarded as a declaration of war on the Irish nation . . . we call upon all Irishmen to resist by the most effective means possible”.

A far cry from Redmond’s call to enlist in the British army in September 1914 and a sure indication that his advice had been misguided. – Yours, etc,


Glenstal Abbey,


Co Limerick.

Sir, – Speculation about the level of self-rule this country might have achieved if the 1916 Rising had not happened is inevitable, if not very productive. The fundamental question posed by the Rising for us today is not whether it was “necessary” for the achievement of independence, but the consequence of celebrating as the founding act of our republic an armed insurrection by a group that, however idealistic or brave, had no mandate of any kind.

So long as we celebrate their right to achieve their political ends by violence are we not validating the actions of any other group of idealists who have taken, or may in future take the same course? Is that what we want? – Yours, etc,


Beale’s Hill,

Lovers Walk,


Sir, – Rob Sadlier (September 26th) is right in his assertion that to survive in the market place, the pub needs to diversify. Here in the UK we have the bizarre situation of seeing the number of pubs closing, whilst the actual number of outlets that actually serve intoxicants is now at its highest since records began.

The writing is on the wall for the local. Interestingly, what we do see is that the very measures the licensing trade are introducing to invigorate their industry are the very steps which are turning the regular punters away. Many have to serve meals and undertake tacky promotions such as “happy hour” and “two for the price of one”. Pubs can be intimidating places, particularly for those of us of a certain age. Catching the eye of a malevolent youth or bumping into a belligerent drunk can prove risky. And of course there is the drink/drive legislation, the smoking ban and the medical profession frightening the life out of us with their hysterical warnings on the danger of drink.These factors are no friends of the pub landlord.

The most compelling reason contributing to the demise of the pub is the prices. Only this week, a writer to this newspaper (Declan Service, September 25th) complained that he was charged €6.85 for a pint of lager in Temple Bar. Absolutely crazy. Here on this side of the Irish Sea, £6 would get you a fair to middling bottle of wine from the corner shop. Such a sum won’t get you much in the Rose and Crown.

Sadly the local tavern as depicted by George Orwell in his essay “The Moon Under Water” is no more. For him, barmaids should know your name, darts should be played only in the public bar, the premises should be quiet enough to allow one to talk and under no circumstances should it have a radio or piano. Halcyon days indeed. – Yours, etc,


Lonsdale Road,

Formby, Liverpool.

Sir, – I thoroughly enjoyed Breda O’Brien’s heartwarming column on the annual Dublin diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes (“Lourdes pilgrimage a miracle of service and selflessness”, Opinion & Analysis, September 27th). I had the honour of travelling with Mount Sackville secondary school. I returned home from one of the most eye-opening, inspiring and humbling weeks of my life. The camaraderie between volunteers, pilgrims, doctors, nurses and helpers was unique and uplifting. My eyes were well and truly opened from the time I landed in Lourdes to the moment I guided my pilgrim to the arrival area back in Dublin Airport. I made new friends, old and young. There were tears of joy and sadness along the way. As the end drew near on the final evening, we all lit candles. Watching the glow of the flames, I reflected on how the best things in life are truly free. – Yours, etc,


Castleknock Drive,

Laurel Lodge,

Castleknock, Dublin 15

A chara, – I was delighted by Prof David McConnell’s charming and utterly civilised response (September 25th) to my letter of September 23rd about how science is taking the place of religion for some.

All too often genuine discourse is replaced by sloganeering and personalised slanging which do nothing to advance any debate.

I thank him for his kind invitation to attend the upcoming humanist conference in Galway (even as I congratulate the association on its 21st anniversary). However, I’m sure he will understand that, as a member of the clergy, my weekends tend to be spoken for.

In the same spirit of courtesy I would like to invite Prof McConnell, and indeed all attendees of the conference, to spend some time in one of the many fine places of worship in the area, should the conference programme allow time. – Is mise,



Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – I was at Little Killary last month, to see the house where Ludwig Wittgenstein lived. The stench from the fish cages offshore was so bad that I had to leave. Can Bord Iascaigh Mhara (September 25th) explain what’s healthy about that? – Yours, etc,


Kingsland Parade,


Dublin 8.

Sir, – Margaret Lee (September 25th) writes that President Michael D Higgins often “forays into policy matters”.

This allegation is a subjective one as there is scope within the role of the President as outlined in the Constitution to represent the people of Ireland.

In his oath of office, the President undertook to “dedicate my abilities to the service and welfare of the people of Ireland”.

In my opinion, Mr Higgins always speaks with the voice of reason, of inclusion and vision for a better Ireland.

We need to hear more, not less, of this wisdom! – Yours, etc,



Co Offaly.

Australian rules Sir, – The Australian elimination of syllables and phonetic shortening of common words, discussed by Frank McNally (An Irishman’s Diary, September 25th), was described as “Strine” 50 years ago in the “Cinnamon Herod” (Sydney Morning Herald).

Australians everywhere gather on New Year’s Eve to display their mastery of metanalysis, syncope and elision by singing “Shoulder Quaint’s Beef Cot”, also known as “Frolang Zine”. – Yours, etc,




Pet theory

Sir, – Never mind Irish Water not granting a water allowance to your reader’s dog Harry (September 26th). What about the goldfish? – Yours, etc,



On the map

Sir, – So what if it’s in the context of the ghost estate “Fontanelle Heights”, but my native village of Ballivor has received the ultimate accolade – a namecheck in Ross O’Carroll Kelly’s column (Magazine, September 20th).

We have arroived! – Yours, etc,


Stradbally North,


Co Galway.

Irish Independent:

I was privileged to attend a concert by Joan Baez in Dublin last night. Her demeanour and songs of peace, love, kindness and compassion provided a very brief respite from the destroyed world we now live in.

A world that this year has ascended to unprecedented heights of madness, violence, crime, cruelty, terrorism and absolute EVIL. It was clear that her beautiful rendition of ‘Imagine’ – with amended lyrics – enabled the audience, just for a brief moment, to believe that we were indeed living in a world where everyone cared about each other. But, sadly, the reality is the opposite.

David Bradley

Drogheda, Co Louth

Business as usual

Jobs for the boys continues unabated it appears… and, indeed, undebated.

Tom Gilsenan

Beaumont, Dublin 9

The McNulty situation

I continued to be amazed by the undoubted very genuine and justified annoyance of the ladies of the Fine Gael Party at their treatment by the Taoiseach. However, there is something about it that puzzles me.

Where were these ladies when one of Ireland’s finest and brightest, was badgered, bullied and banished for refusing to be gagged? They were perfectly entitled – legally and democratically – to disagree with their former colleague on the matter being debated and voted on.

But did not little alarm bells go off in their heads as to the manner in which she was being treated? (What you permit you promote.) It appears to be a little late now to be crying wolf!

Aidan Coburn

Dunleckney, Co Carlow

Enda Kenny: father of the Dail, leader of Fine Gael, and Taoiseach; these are just a few of the laudable appellations that hang heavy on the shoulders of the leader of our country. He is in danger of acquiring a number of new far less laudable titles if he is not careful concerning his disastrous handling of the John McNulty fiasco.

Speak softly and carry a big stick, isn’t that meant to be the credo of the wise leader? Mr Kenny seems intent on using that stick to either stir up sundry hornets’ nests or else assault sacred cows.

He cannot credibly profess to be heralding a new dawn of high standards in office while playing the same old parlour games of patronage and cronyism.

Mr Kenny has always conducted himself as a stand-up, what-you-see-is-what-you-get type of politician.

How refreshing it would be were he to put his hand up and say: “OK folks, I got it wrong, sorry I’m not perfect”, with the emphasis on “Sorry”.

Then we could all happily move on. Recent conduct suggests a close look at himself might be in order.

TG Gavin

Galway city

Car tax a cause for road rage

The tax paid on an old car is now much more than that paid on a newer car. So, if you are well-off enough to spend tens of thousands on a new car, you then pay a relatively small annual of car tax. However, if you cannot afford to replace your car you will pay, on average, a few hundred euro more per year in car tax.

The argument that this is to help reduce carbon dioxide emissions is a red herring – if the Government really wanted to reduce such emissions then the car tax would be based on mileage. Why do the less well-off in society continue to get hit with the bigger bills?

Seamus Cullen

Knocknacarra, Galway

Where was the vox populi?

A Leavy (Irish Independent, September 25), wrote: “One of the reasons this country became bankrupt is that the members of governments, bank boards, etc were not sufficiently held to account by the Irish media during the boom.” Incorrect!

It should not be the Irish mass media, that we the people should look to to protect our democracy – it is ourselves. The primary role of the mass media is to inform, not to act as our guardians or to shape public opinion. The primary role of the citizen in a democracy is to lead, not to follow.

But then, we live in a nation where the vast majority of its citizens are fearful of speaking publicly the unpopular.

Vincent J Lavery

Irish Free Speech Movement

Dalkey, County Dublin

A thirst for Irish Water answers

Since all the arguments about the water tax started about six months ago, I have still not received an answer to my basic question – “If one of the top priorities of our government is not to make sure that the people of Ireland have decent drinking water in their homes, then what are they actually there for?”

After which one might well ask, what are they doing with the €38 million that they extort from us that is more important than providing us with drinking water? One might also ask why on Earth we should be expected to pay anything at all for the muck that is currently being delivered to our taps from their ancient filter systems.

Dick Barton

Address with editor

Viewing discretion advised

Allow me to reply to John O’Donnell.

He is right that my attitude is common among the paying public who attend matches – we pay, we say!

You mention the modern game, the defensive art, and the tactical battle, are you sure its not Star Wars you’re looking at? I know boring rhymes with scoring, but boring is what I said, I never mentioned low scoring

Regarding your challenge by way of a question, allow me to inform you that anyone who asks a question and already knows the answer is simply looking for conversation.

If the so-called modern game, God forbid, were ever allowed to continue, one would be able to attend All-Ireland Football Finals with three or four other paying customers.

Remember the 1970s? When teams went out and expressed themselves individually? Where we watched the skills of the high fielder? The classy moves that at times ended in goals or points that live long in the memory.

Will we remember six or seven players surrounding another player till they are awarded a free for not releasing the ball? Those are the memories of the modern game.

Fred Molloy

Glenville, Dublin 15

Syria airstrikes allowed by law

Edward Horgan wrote that the air strikes that are taking place in Syria “contravene international law because they do not have UN Security Council approval (Letters, September 25). That is incorrect.

As cited by Samantha Power, the US Ambassador to the UN, Article 51 of the UN Charter covers an individual or collective right to self-defence against armed attack and the Syrian government is unable to prevent Isil from operating on Syrian soil.

Isil poses a threat to the US and its European allies because some members of that organisation are citizens of those countries and there is a likelihood that they will use their expertise to carry out terrorist attacks if they go home.

Ciaran Masterson

Carrickane, Co Cavan

Irish Independent


September 26, 2014

26 September 2014 Ben

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day. Off to the chemist but no medicine for Mary, Ben comes and does some books.

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down gammon for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.


Werner Franz – obituary

Werner Franz was a cabin boy who survived the Hindenburg disaster by jumping through a service hatch as the airship crashed

Werner Franz, survivor of the Hindenburg disaster

Werner Franz, survivor of the Hindenburg disaster Photo: AP

6:03PM BST 25 Sep 2014


WERNER FRANZ, who has died aged 92, was thought to be the last surviving crew member of the Hindenburg, the huge German airship that exploded and crashed in the first major disaster in American aviation history.

As a 14-year-old cabin boy, Werner Franz was the youngest member of the Hindenburg’s 60-strong crew when the hydrogen-filled Zeppelin caught fire and crashed at Lakehurst, New Jersey, on May 6 1937. Of the 97 people on board, 36 passengers and crew and one person on the ground were killed when the airship crashed in an enormous fireball.

The Hindenburg disaster was captured by waiting photographers, film crews and a radio commentator on the ground, making it one of history’s most vividly reported air accidents.

Hindenburg bursting into flames on May 6 1937

Named after the German president who appointed Hitler chancellor in 1933, the Hindenburg airship was a spectacular — and expensive — form of transport that could cross the Atlantic westbound in less than three days, at a time when even the swiftest ocean liners could take up to a week or more. As such it was also a powerful propaganda tool of the Nazi regime.

Having made its maiden voyage more than a year earlier, the Hindenburg had made 62 safe flights before its destruction. Werner had made four round-trip transatlantic crossings, to both North and South America, and had become familiar with the airship’s internal network of narrow wooden passageways that connected bow to stern, a distance of more than 800ft — almost the length of the Titanic.

He had been clearing the dinner dishes in the officer’s mess when, at 7.25pm, he heard a thud and felt the airship shake. The Hindenburg lurched, and its nose began tilting upwards. “Directly overhead there were flames,” Werner Franz remembered.

One memorable photograph of the disaster shows the airship buckling as a fireball rises from its back. Near the nose of the ship, what looks like a spray of water escaping was actually a torrent from the Hindenburg’s ruptured water tanks. Werner Franz believed that getting drenched when they burst protected him from the flames and heat and may have saved his life.

“At first I was shocked, but the water brought me back,” he recalled at a commemoration ceremony in 2004. Gripping both sides of a picture window as the airship sank towards the ground, he kicked open a service hatch used to load provisions, swung his feet out and jumped. He can be seen in newsreel footage of the disaster, leaping the few feet to the ground, and running for his life. “I was doing it instinctively. I didn’t think,” he said.

His timing could hardly have been better. The airship was just low enough to allow Franz to land on a canvas ballast bag, which cushioned his fall, but high enough for him to dash beneath the port side of the airship before it collapsed on the ground in a burning mass. Having jumped clear of the Hindenburg, Franz ran for his life away from the blazing wreckage, as the flames were driven in his direction by the wind. As a result he escaped with singed eyebrows and soaking wet clothes; otherwise he had barely a scratch.

The young Werner Franz with one of his fellow survivors, Heinrich Kubis, who was serving as chief steward on the flight

Werner Franz was born in Frankfurt on May 22 1922. As a 14 year-old he landed his job on the Hindenburg quite by chance. His brother worked in a hotel where the passengers gathered before boarding the airship, and when the Zeppelin Company asked the hotel for a boy to serve the officers, Werner was chosen. The experience was an eye-opener for a boy from a humble background. His job was to make beds, set tables, wash dishes and clean uniforms, but for a brief few months he saw the world in a way usually enjoyed only by the airship’s affluent passengers. As well as huge picture windows affording breathtaking views, the Hindenburg offered passengers gourmet German and French cuisine to the musical accompaniment of an aluminium baby grand piano.

Although Werner worked a 14-hour day serving the officers’ meals and attending to their cabins, he was allowed to take breaks during which he could enjoy the spectacular panorama below. He would often visit the mechanics who manned the engines or the riggers who worked at the top of the airship. On the day of the disaster, he climbed up to his favourite small window for a bird’s-eye view of New York City, gazing over Manhattan’s “ocean of buildings far and wide” as the Hindenburg circled overhead, waiting for local thunderstorms to abate at Lakehurst.

But as the fireball exploded, Franz was busy on the mess deck and not at his preferred observation point further forward, where other crewmen waiting to prepare the ship for landing were incinerated by flames bursting through the nose.

The day after the disaster, as a US Navy search team picked through the smoking wreckage, Werner Franz asked them to look for his pocket-watch, a present from his grandfather. It was found amid the debris, a mangled scrap of blackened metal but still ticking.

Although sabotage was initially suspected, no convincing evidence of a plot to destroy the airship was ever found. A build-up of static electricity that ignited a hydrogen leak is now believed to be a possible explanation for the disaster.

During the Second World War, Franz served as a radio operator and instructor in the Luftwaffe. After the war he worked as a precision engineer for the German postal service and was also a skating coach.

Werner Franz, who considered his few months’ service aboard the Hindenburg as the happiest time of his life, is survived by his wife, Annerose, and several children. At least one other survivor of the disaster, Werner Doehner, then eight years old and who was thrown out of the stricken airship by his mother, is thought to be still living.

Werner Franz, born May 22 1922, died August 13 2014


Houses of Parliament, London Home for a devolved English parliament? The Houses of Parliament at sunrise. Photograph: Alamy

There is already an English standing committee of the House of Commons (If home rule is good enough for Scotland, it should be good enough for England too, 20 September). If you want English votes for English laws then do it in the committee stage. Have the English committee meet in the House of Commons one or two days a week. We can do this now and need no constitutional change to bring this about. We do not need a separate English parliament to bring this about or a separate English executive.
Nigel Boddy

• As Gordon Reece rightly says (Letters, 22 September) the logic of preventing Scots MPs from voting on English matters is that only women should vote on women’s issues etc. But there’s surely a wider constitutional issue. We’ve spent months successfully persuading the people of Scotland that we’re better together. Yet we now plan to tell their representatives that they can only contribute to debate on matters affecting some parts of our supposedly “United” Kingdom. They’d be right to suspect that “together” didn’t quite mean what we led them to believe.
David Robertson
West Malvern, Worcestershire

• We used to have devolved government in England (Cameron faces pressure over home rule deal, 22 September). It was called local government and it had powers to levy taxes dependent on local need – rates. The Tories eviscerated it in the 1980s because councils did not agree with central government. We don’t need regional parliaments. We need local government with real powers.
Gary Hogben
Moreton, Wirral

• The problem at Westminster is not that Scottish MPs can vote on English matters whereas English MPs cannot vote on purely Scottish matters. Scottish MPs cannot vote on purely Scottish matters either, because there is a more appropriate forum where those matters are decided. There is no such forum for English matters. Voters in Scotland elect councillors to decide purely local matters, MSPs to decide regional matters and MPs to decide national matters. To dismiss the notion of having an English parliament (or regional assemblies) as simply adding another layer of politicians is to miss the whole point of devolution: to move power nearer to the people affected by political decisions.
Robin Gardner
West Bridgford, Nottingham

• How can David Cameron, having seen turnout of 85%+ in Scotland, think that the “English question” can be settled by a few Westminster politicians in a matter of months? We need a debate over years, not months, not about the intricacies of the West Lothian question, or Ukip’s sour complaint about English taxpayers’ subsidy, but about a radical devolution of power to local areas, to reflect England’s scale and diversity. Within living memory the city of Carlisle ran both its electricity supply and its pubs – an indication of how far local authority powers have shrunk.

A debate about which powers, and what is local, would wake up England. “Localistas” like me would argue that Manchester and Margate require locally led labour-market and skills policies, and local control over minimum wages. “Centralisers” would worry about small-town corruption and postcode lotteries. Localistas would counter with a gradual transfer of powers as local capacity builds up. And so forth. But it needs all the Westminster parties to abide by whatever consultation or referendum results comes out.

We really are at a turning point. This is an opportunity to get the English voting again. Let’s hope politicians rise to the challenge.
Carolyn Hayman

• The way to spike the neoliberal guns is not so very difficult (Beware the hijacking of reform, 22 September): whatever powers are devolved to Scotland should also be devolved to English local authorities. Too simple? Too obvious? Why?

Health and education are what most voters care most about, as well as being the departments being given away (to privatising forces). You just have to change who you are giving the power to – namely, back to the people, whether of Scotland, Manchester, Wales or Northern Ireland.

Lansley and his lot have already prepared the NHS for a carve-up, and Gove’s work in education was so bad that no recent work done in that area would constitute a loss.

Working out how to have a fair legal system for England will take more time, but giving control of health and education to local governance seems a great start to devolving power to the millions of English, Welsh and Northern Irish people who want to feel relevant again in democratic political processes.
Peter Cawley

• I suggest that there be just one class of UK MPs with dual roles: they would sit in Westminster (alternating with the other capitals) as the House of Commons for two to three days a fortnight dealing with supranational UK matters, and in their home parliaments for the rest of the time, focusing onEnglish/Welsh/Scottish/Northern Irish devolved powers and their constituents.

This system allows English home rule and requires each national parliament to help run the greater UK, so taking their proper share of responsibility for the UK as a whole. An added advantage is the money saved through losing the current non-English Westminster MPs. The hardest problem would be choosing the prime minister, who would be more presidential than now: they would run the macro-economy, foreign affairs and defence, with pretty much everything else devolved to the national governments.The easiest solution is for MPs to elect one of their number.

And, given the much diminished role of the House of Commons, would this system really need the House of Lords revising chamber? The Northern Irish and Welsh parliaments seem to get along fine without a second chamber, as does the Scottish one, and it makes its own laws. The vacated House of Lords would make an ideal, readymade home for the English parliament.
Jonathan Bard

• We shouldn’t get too misty-eyed about devolution as the panacea to our political ills (A big moment that demands a big response; 20 September). A bigger challenge has to be tackled first: the need to root out “old corruption”. In the 18th century, financial, commercial and political elites meshed together to feed parasitically off the growing wealth of the state. It went beyond Westminster, capturing the professions and a whole host of apparently non-political areas of life. Contemporaries felt that the “rapacious economic spirit” of the age pervaded all aspects of society: economics, politics and morality. Sound familiar?

Its disappearance around the middle of the 19th century was down to reforming governments that reconstructed the state to protect the public interest and laid the foundation for regulatory and collective state provision.

A decade ago David Marquand highlighted the return of old corruption in his book The Decline of the Public. It was driven by “the cronyism and clientelism spawned by the privatisation” of the previous 25 years.

It has continued apace: accountancy companies that write tax legislation for government simultaneously provide advice to clients about how to avoid the tax regulations they have drafted; outsourcing giants, Serco and G4S, at the centre of serious fraud inquiries granted new government work; the revolving door between Westminster, Whitehall and the private sector spins faster; profitable public assets sold for a song; companies involved in the privatisation of education and the NHS (to name but two areas of the shrinking public domain) reflects a similar meshing of political and financial interests that would have been familiar to those adept at drawing off largesse from the 18th-century state.

If these issues are not tackled, old corruption will extend its lease on our faltering political institutions: devolved or not.
Councillor Alan Waters (Labour)
Deputy leader, Norwich city council

• Scottish MPs are to be banned from voting on “English issues”. What about unelected Scottish peers in the House of Lords? Presumably Tom Strathclyde (Scottish hereditary baron) and David Steel (former Scottish MP) will be banned, but what about the Countess of Mar, a Scottish hereditary peerage held by a cheese-maker from Worcestershire? Rather than tinkering with an illogical system, we need to embark on fundamental constitutional reform to federalism.
Andrea Woelke

• Surely it would be timely to rename the Bank of England as Bank UK. The assets contained in the Bank of England are proportionately the property of the people of Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland as well as England.

Come on, Dave. Betray your tribe.
Thomas Jenkin
Penzance, Cornwall

• Symmetrical devolution across the UK is superficially attractive. The problem is that the idea of “English votes for English laws” is not symmetrical if it involves simply giving additional powers to English MPs elected to the existing Westminster parliament.

The Scottish (and Welsh and Northern Irish) assemblies are elected by voters explicitly voting for representatives who are collectively responsible for delivering defined devolved powers within their geographical areas. Those assemblies are also elected by a form of proportional representation.

By contrast, English MPs at Westminster are elected by the first-past-the-post system. And giving English MPs at Westminster the exclusive right to enact English legislation would be to provide them with two distinct roles: enacting English laws and controlling the creation of the UK-wide government.

What would electors in England be voting for? An MP whose function would be to enact English laws, to appoint and oversee a future UK government, or both? How would voters distinguish between those distinct functions when deciding how to cast their votes in an election? Is it self-evident that an elector would want to vote for a representative of the same political persuasion for both functions?

There is an arguable case for English devolution, but if it happens it should be on the same model as for the three other nations: a separate national assembly elected by proportional representation. It should not be by creating a second and ambiguous role for English MPs in Westminster.
Richard Williams
Kingston, Surrey

• I would like to offer up the following two-part solution to the West Lothian question and the broader UK constitutional fallout from last week’s Scottish referendum. The first part of the solution would be to turn the House of Commons into an English parliament, composed solely of English MPs, to vote solely on English domestic law. In the political hierarchy, this English parliament (still called the House of Commons if needs be) would sit alongside the existing Scottish parliament and Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies.

The second part of the solution would be to turn the House of Lords into a wholly elected upper chamber of members elected from across the UK. This reformed version of the House of Lords would hold sway on non-devolved matters (such as wars, defence and foreign policy), debate UK-wide issues, refer issues for debate by the regional assemblies, have the ability to issue non-binding “think-agains” to the regional parliaments and would adjudicate in instances of dispute regarding whether an issue is devolved or not. Members of this reformed House of Lords would carry the title Lord, but only for the duration of their office.
Dr Mark Campbell-Roddis
Dunblane, Perthshire

Irvine Welsh (20 September) is right when he says that “imposing an unwanted parliament in Norwich on East Anglian folks would be as undemocratic as taking away the Scots one in Edinburgh”. The solution that is starting to emerge is different: city-regions. Drastically strengthened local government in places such as the Norwich and Cambridge city-areas could well be popular here.

The key point is that we need real decentralisation from Westminster – which Cameron’s proposals or an English parliament alike are designed not to deliver. It should be up to a citizens’ deliberative constitutional convention to sort out exactly what model of decentralisation to implement. And what is encouraging is that Ed Miliband, Nigel Farage and Caroline Lucas have all come out in favour of creating such a convention.

Will the Lib Dems join this remarkable coalition, or will they back Cameron’s shabby elite-centred short-term fix?
Dr Rupert Read
School of politics, philosophy and languages, University of East Anglia

• It took David Cameron a little less than an hour to set out his new agenda after the results were declared, overriding the debate and all of the promises of the past four weeks. Cameron’s argument for English devolution is now being taken up by several lobbyists, for instance ResPublica, which will be lobbying all three party conferences. ResPublica is peddling a decentralisation/devolution agenda. It wants a devolution of powers not just in local and regional government but also in the public services, notably the health service. This is likely to result in fragmentation: allowing each region to take control, at short notice, while tightening still further their central government funding, with the result that the large corporate providers will step in to bridge any gaps in provision. In other words, it may easily turn out to be a new strategy for continued privatisation of the health and other public services.

I hope the Labour party will show a little less timidity and face up to this opportunistic gambit (Owen Jones, 22 September) with a structured proposal for federalism within the UK that is long-lasting and not just tactical.
David Edgeworth
Woodford Green, Essex

• Martin Rowson’s cartoon with its English Laws for Global Corporations flag and Nigel Farage leading the parade was the only part of the Guardian that really grasped who were the real beneficiaries of the Scottish referendum (20 September). This devolution frenzy now gripping politicians and your paper appears to mistakenly imagine that the country’s ills can be dealt with simply by devolving rights and powers within the UK. Yet it is just a delusional rearranging of the deckchairs on a Titanic sailing through a sea of free-market icebergs, all steered by Steve Bell’s fat cats. These are what dictate the limits of our economic freedom, not how we organise ourselves internally.

Farage will be the major beneficiary from this devolution obsession since it will add one more trump card to the two strong hands he already has to play in the runup to the election – immigration and austerity. Other than Ukip, all national parties, including the Greens, support open EU borders. Farage supports austerity, but can say “so do all big political parties”, albeit with policies ranging from austerity-lite to austerity-cruel. There seems to be no sign of a national political party rejecting both appeasement to the market and open EU borders. Until they do, it’ll be politics as usual.
Colin Hines
Author of Progressive Protectionism (published autumn 2014)

• It would appear that some of the same politicians who were bewailing the potential break-up of the UK if Scotland had voted for independence seem more than happy to advocate the break-up of England into separate regions.

No doubt these politicians are aware of several opinion polls over the past few years showing over 60% support for an English parliament (eg an ICM poll in November 2006 showing 68% support and a BBC poll in January 2007 showing 61%). On the other hand, the referendum for a north-east regional assembly in 2004 resulted in an overwhelming 78% rejection.

There really is only one way to settle this debate. It is time the people of England were offered a fair referendum on whether we want an English parliament, regional assemblies, both or neither.
Simon Cowley

• Both the 1964 and 1974 elections (which we are told are the only ones where the results would have been different) ended periods of Conservative rule. After both elections Harold Wilson was able to call a snap election at an opportune time and secure a larger majority. It is doubtful that he would have been in power at all without Scottish MPs. We could have had almost five decades of uninterrupted Conservative rule. Be careful what is agreed about Scottish MPs.
Will Douglas-Mann
Petrockstowe, Devon

Floods in Kashmir Cars submerged on a road in a flooded area in Srinagar. ‘Thousands are homeless and people are dying,’ writes Liz Turner. Photograph: Yawar Nazir/Getty Images

For the past few weeks, since the floods, a Kashmiri friend of mine in Srinagar has been living with his wife, son, mother and grandmother on the floor of his local mosque – his house was destroyed by a wall of water he said was like a tsunami. Thousands are homeless and people are dying; the NGOs in the area are doing what they can to help, but the Indian government has done nothing – at the same time as it’s managed to find £45m to send a spaceship to Mars (Report, 25 September).
Liz Turner

• If India can spend £45m on such a project, why are we continuing to include them in our aid programme?
Edward Thomas
Eastbourne, East Sussex

Red Cross health workers, Ebola centre, Guinea Red Cross health workers wearing protective suits at an Ebola treatment centre in Guinea, September 2014. Photograph: Cellou Binani/AFP/Getty Images

Simon Jenkins is absolutely right to underline the fundamental difference between humanitarian and political or military intervention (Finally, the west is acting on Ebola. What took us so long?, 19 September). It is also true that humanitarian relief work currently faces unprecedented challenges, often as a result of being seen as linked to one side or another in conflict and other disasters. But it does not follow from this that the humanitarian ethic of the Red Cross has diminished, nor that the impartiality of our founders has been “swamped in the rush to war”. Whether in Syria or Sierra Leone, the Red Cross Red Crescent movement can and does deliver vital assistance every day without political, military or religious influence.

We have been responding to the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone since its very beginning and now have 2,500 volunteers working to prevent its spread across the three countries. They are part of a worldwide movement which delivers aid on the basis of greatest need. This often involves considerable danger, manifested tragically in Syria (where we are among the few humanitarian agencies able to work across frontlines) in the deaths of 37 Syrian Arab Red Crescent workers while carrying out their work.

The biggest threat to our humanitarian mission is being perceived as anything less than neutral, independent and impartial, which can lead to being unable to safely access those in need. This is why in conflict situations we make repeated calls for all parties to ensure quick and unimpeded access for humanitarian aid workers. The decision to provide humanitarian assistance must be driven by need only and regardless of “national security”. For this reason, it is imperative that the concept of humanitarianism is understood correctly.
Mike Adamson
Acting chief executive, British Red Cross

• I’ve seen plenty of coverage of the faltering attempts to combat the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa recently. We’ve all read about the budget cuts at the World Health Organisation that are hampering the response, and the urgent need, articulated by Dr Margaret Chan, the director general of the WHO, for “an army of experts and health workers to combat an outbreak overtaking some of the world’s poorest countries”. Once again, Cuba has stepped forward with 62 volunteer doctors and 103 nurses, all with post-catastrophe experience. Over the past 50 years Cuba has sent more than 300,000 health workers to 158 countries, even offering humanitarian aid to the US – which has tried to bring Cuba to its knees over the past 55 years by its illegal trade blockade – when hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.

Simon Jenkins, to his credit, made a passing reference to Cuba’s initiative in his column, but, apart from that, Cuba’s medical volunteers seem to be totally invisible to our media. Isn’t it time we gave them the credit they so definitely deserve?
Ed Glasson
Bracknell, Berkshire

It is not just those being prosecuted in court who suffer from not paying television licences (Why are we bringing people to court over TV licences, G2, 25 September). I know those on benefits who, having been warned they could be taken to court, then make regular weekly or fortnightly payments. The trouble is that they then have to cut down on other expenditure, such as food. I understand that our wealthy MPs in the House of Commons can watch free television as well as eat their subsidised food.
Bob Holman

• Had I to pay a licence fee, which I don’t, to watch BBC television, I would be really cross that Capita was getting paid £560m out of my contributions to the BBC to claw far less than that back. There must be another way.
Brian Smith
Berlin, Germany

• Is there a way that we over-75s can give our TV licence money to someone who can’t afford one?
Michael Harrison

Shop closing down A shop closing down. ‘Land can so much more profitably be switched to use for speculative housing from industrial, office and retail use,’ writes Michael Edwards. Photograph: Murdo Macleod

In addition to the alternatives your correspondents propose of moving jobs away from London and the south and redirecting infrastructure spending (Letters, 24 September), there is a third pressing problem: jobs and affordable housing within London are getting further apart. Low- and middle-income people are being forced out of central and inner London by a mixture of housing costs and eviction from social housing estates, while employment in many outer-London areas is declining because land can so much more profitably be switched to use for speculative housing from industrial, office and retail use. These switches are the result of the government’s ideological commitment to “deregulation” through removing planning controls and creating “permitted development rights”, together with continuing failure by London boroughs and mayors of London to use the planning system adequately to protect employment.

These are issues on which a wide spectrum of businesses and community groups in the London Forum and Just Space networks have made strong representations to successive mayoral plans without having any impact at all. A tougher approach to protecting suburban employment would shorten trips for workers in all income groups and reduce London’s insatiable demands for infrastructure. While we wait for a new mayor, we all need to tell the department for communities and local government to reverse its proposed expansion of permitted development rights for London and the south-east before its consultation closes at the end of October.
Michael Edwards
UCL Bartlett School of Planning

• I agree with Richard Mountford with mixed feelings. I am grateful that so many people are prepared to live in the overcrowded London and the south-east because it leaves the rest of the country to be enjoyed by us sensible ones! Mr Mountford should add London universities to his list of institutions to be moved. The University of London has over 170,000 students, plus staff and facilities management. Moving it to a more suitable place would increase the availability of rented accommodation and enable youngsters to realise life exists outside London. Given that Oxford, Cambridge, York and Durham are examples of prestigious universities outside London, there can be no excuse for having such a large university in the centre of London, adding to its transport and housing problems.
Brian Keegan

Shakespearean sex worker Mistress Quickly Shakespearean sex worker Mistress Quickly ( Judi Dench) in Merry Wives The Musical at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, 2006. Photograph: Tristram Kenton

If some Luton police officers did not wish to appear in Channel 4’s reality TV show because they were paying child maintenance and did not want their former partners to know they had been promoted (Report, 23 September), we – and the Child Maintenance Service – must hope that their ex-partners are not claiming extra benefits.
Jill Adams

• Jeff Lewis (Letters, 24 September) is right to speculate that parish authorities clamping down on “inconstancies”, as sex outside marriage was known, led to their epithet of “bawdy courts”. However, if Germaine Greer is to believed, the unintended consequences were that many young women fled the ignominy of public punishment to seek new lives in the bawdy houses of London, where they became the models for Shakespeare’s sex workers such as Doll Tearsheet and Mistress Quickly.
Austen Lynch
Garstang, Lancashire

Cancer is diagnosed late (22 September): “Urgent improvements … would save the NHS millions of pounds a year through reduced chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery, as well as enhancing many cancer sufferers’ chances of survival”. Love the order of priority here.
Deb Tanner (cancer patient)

• Why is your obituary of a woman who looked after a big house larger than that of a man who helped to save thousands of lives (The Dowager Duchess of Devonshire; Ronald Grainger, both 25 September)?
Peter Brooker
West Wickham, Kent

• May I congratulate you on your splendid Orwellian slogan: Labour must invest in health prevention (Letters, 23 September).
Gerry Abbott

• I assume that the migrating wildebeest in your picture (Eyewitness, 24 September) are seeking gnu pastures.
David Evans

Jeremy Isaacs outlined what Michael Kustow did to make Channel 4 distinctive. I worked as a very junior assistant to Michael when he was commissioning editor for arts there. He was ahead of every curve. He had a bright yellow Sony Walkman, with matching headphones, long before anyone else. What was he listening to, I asked, as he jogged past me in a onesie tracksuit in Charlotte Street, near C4 HQ. “Japanese minimalism,” he said, as if I should know. I didn’t know then, and I don’t now. One day he asked me to accompany him to an ITV South Bank Show lecture to be given by George Steiner. “You’ll meet my friend, the artist Tom Phillips,” he told me. They, with Michael Billington, had been at Oxford together, often performing in Oxford University Drama Society productions. Next day at work I told Michael that Tom had invited me to “see his etchings”. “Oh, you want to be careful,” warned Michael. I married Tom anyway.

Falinge estate, Rochdale: the most deprived in the UK Financial thinking plays a big part in local authority decisions about putting young people in care. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Samantha Morton (‘Nobody would have believed me. I thought they were the coolest, nicest people’, Weekend, 13 September) questions the place of private finance in the care of children. Government data shows that there is the same range of quality no matter who runs children’s homes.

The provision of care for young people with the highest levels of needs, as in children’s homes, is now complex. Samantha Morton is right, there is a social duty of care but it seems to be happening less and less.

Financial thinking is now integral to decision-making by local authorities about a placement. Costs can outweigh care in their reasoning by a ratio of 80%:20%. The costs of independent providers are scrutinised closely. One regional group has a proposal to pay less than it costs to staff a home.

In England 78% of homes are in the independent sector. This is a sector of solo and small providers: 45% own just one home; a further 19% own two, usually started because they saw an unmet need or because they saw how they can “do things better”. The ‘“big money”, which may be the group Samantha Morton is commenting on, own less than one fifth, an amount that looks like it will not rise further, not reaching the density that we see in adult care or in independent fostering.

The reality of residential childcare today is that if you didn’t do it out of commitment, you wouldn’t at all; there’s more money elsewhere in other jobs, and returns from investing in other forms of children’s care.

The reality of residential childcare is of a sector that is, despite underfunding, putting its house in order. Providers have completed their reforms as directed. However, six months after regulation was in place and now some six weeks after further guidance, many other agencies, including local authorities, are still to complete their associated safeguarding reforms designed to be supportive of children’s homes.

No doubt a large cause of the delays come from the reforms, costing money that local authorities do not have. The reforms have cost children’s homes providers thousands of pounds.

The children’s homes sector is without hope that whatever it does or says will be recognised as positive. We have tried; we have had the almost unanimous views of those doing the job dismissed, excluded. We are holding on, waiting for better times but with a deep dread that they will not be coming – knowing there are yet more reforms to be proposed, probably imposed, soon.
Jonathan Stanley
Chief executive, Independent Children’s Homes Association


Do we learn nothing from history?  When Hitler attempted to bomb the UK into capitulation, the effect was quite the reverse of what was intended. Indeed, history would seem to show that particular episode was not an isolated case.

I remember the US trying to bomb North Vietnam and Cambodia into submission, and that seemed to lead to success for the Vietcong and the rise to power of Pol Pot, and in the latter case the subsequent massacres were truly appalling.

Again, we bombed Iraq in an attempt to remove Saddam Hussein – which we did, but the consequences of removing him has led directly to the situation we have today.

Nor is it just the Western powers who fail to appreciate that the use of bombing has a detrimental effect to international relations. Israel and the Palestinian forces seem to be bound together in an endless cycle of violence.

As Tony Benn said: ‘‘War is the ultimate failure of diplomacy’’. What we need to do is to try to reach hearts and minds and have dialogue with others. That, after all, was what has allowed peace in Northern Ireland to flourish. This will only come about through education, understanding and a wish to enjoy ‘‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’’.

John Broughton


Military action in Iraq or Syria is counter-productive. It undoubtedly results in innocent people being maimed and killed. This, in turn, attracts more people to join the extremist cause.  We need to remember that it is our horrendous legacy of intervention in this area which helped increase this anti-West extremism in the first place.

Furthermore, it is double standards to single out extremist groups yet happily allow Israel to continue its illegal occupation of Palestine.

Mark Richards


David Cameron called the Islamic State (Isis) fighters “vicious terrorists”.  Geoffrey Robertson says that it is “legal” for the UK to use the military to go after Isis because they are “criminals”. (As a matter of law, we do not need the United Nations’ permission to attack these criminals, 25 September).  But in 2011, international lawyer Professor Mary Ellen O’Connell stated quite clearly, in Congress and later at Chatham House, London, that “terrorist acts are criminal offences, and therefore properly dealt with by law enforcement agencies”.  To reinforce her point, she added that armies should not be used when dealing with terrorism.

But then, the Ministry of Defence has no remit to do law enforcement.

Lesley Docksey


Isis didn’t exist and couldn’t have existed under Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq. The West spent more than 10 years attempting to establish a stable, pro-Western government in Iraq and training the Iraqi army to withstand insurgency from extremist Islamic groups.

Yet this army appears to be incapable of defeating Isis without the support of the Kurdish Peshmerga and Western air strikes.  What makes Western governments think they can achieve in a few years what they failed to achieve in 10 years in Iraq, or nearly 14 years in Afghanistan, especially without putting more ‘‘boots on the ground’’.

Julius Marstrand


Robert Fisk (22 September) claims that defeating Isis must involve “an alliance” with Iran and Hezbollah.  Has he forgotten that even if Hezbollah doesn’t kill or mutilate women, Iran does, and if it doesn’t sell girls as sex slaves, it allows them to be married, even if they are under 13; not to mention imprisoning, torturing and executing political dissidents of both sexes?

 A better way to defeat Isis is to starve them by buying oil from Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Canada, or better still – as Anthony Hilton recommended in Wednesday’s Standard and as the Rockefeller Foundation is now doing – to stop investing in fossil fuels and change to alternative forms of energy.

Carolyn Beckingham

East Sussex

To describe the new Middle East war as messy is a masterly understatement.  As your leading article (24 September) states, this is a proxy war between two strands of Islam, Sunni and Shia. It is not a civil war but a religious war.

The two sects have been at bitter loggerheads for 1,300 years (the battle of Karbala AD 680) and the end of their conflict is nowhere in sight. The West, which is nominally a Christian demesne, should have absolutely no participation in this war or any other religious upheaval in the Middle East.

At last the Sunni kingdoms have woken up to the fact that the so-called Islamic State, a Sunni organisation, is trying to impose a cruel and barbaric theocratic regime on their own doorsteps. Let them assume the burden of quelling this monster. They have the financial clout to do so (it will make a change from buying football clubs or running horse-racing stables in Europe).

As for our Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, saying that he hopes Parliament has “the mental strength to take on the challenge” of Isis, has he seriously taken leave of his senses? Has he learnt nothing from our recent experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan?

David Ashton

Shipbourne, Kent

Camden school is right to ban niqab

Camden School for Girls is absolutely right to ban the Muslim student from taking her A-levels until she removes her niqab (24 September). The young girl involved may indeed be just trying to express her individuality as teenagers do, but she is being either badly advised or cynically manipulated. Dressed like this her job prospects are zero. Not only is the niqab a health and safety issue and an impediment to the face- to-face contact that good teaching requires, it sends out a provocative signal that rejects everything that this liberal school and British society hold dear.

We should not tolerate intolerance. And once one student is allowed to wear the niqab, others will surely follow. Far from being Islamophobia, this is Islamophilia – embracing Muslims who wish to integrate and flourish in a  pluralistic country.

Stan Labovitch


It isn’t perfect, but thank God for the NHS

In response to T Sayer’s ill-informed letter of 25 September about the “NHS and Labour not fit for purpose,’’ I say – from recent personal experience  – you have got it wrong.

There may be a number of highly paid middle- managers that fit your description of “too many overpaid employees” but when I recently suffered a stroke at the age of 48, I was treated from start to finish at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading by caring, kind, professional and brilliant staff –motivated not by profit but by compassion. Thanks to their efforts I can now walk, talk, and write this letter. I am incensed by such lazy criticism of an institution which we should all fiercely protect. Nothing is entirely perfect – but in my mind the NHS comes close; I thank God it was there for me when I needed it.

Sarah Walsh


T Sayer’s letter is just a series of assertions about the NHS and no evidence to support them. Since its inception my grandparents, my parents, myself, my wife, my siblings, my children and my grandchildren have all had cause to be thankful for its existence at one time or another. I don’t think my family is unique. If T Sayer wants to class me as one of the ‘‘ignorant’’, it is a badge I shall wear with pride.

Dr Les May



She wasn’t purring but snoring…

David Cameron claims the Queen was ‘‘purring’’ over the Scottish referendum result. I suspect he is mistaken. If she was having to listen to him, is it not more likely that Her Majesty was gently snoring?

Pete Dorey

Bath, Somerset

Hacking payouts should go to charity

While the press should be brought to justice for hacking if it is a criminal offence, there is absolutely no justification for payouts to celebrities who have suffered no damage to their careers or person. These people crave publicity and while their privacy should be protected the perpetrators should be fined and the money paid to the state or charities. These people, who tend to be well off, get more publicity while victims of violence or fraud are usually left without compensation. Damages should be paid only when justified.

Peter Fieldman

By email


Pedantic message? Not if you speak Latin

Will Dean’s TV review (25 September) uses the phrase ‘‘high jinx’’. This should be high jinks – a jinx is a different thing altogether. Also, I can’t believe Geoffrey Robertson QC wrote ‘‘hostis humanis generis’’. I’m sure he’d have put ‘‘hostis humani generis’’.

Humani is genitive singular to agree with generis. I find that well- produced books make errors over place-names and foreign quotations. Maybe the spell-check can’t deal with anything out of the ordinary.

Alan Langley

Market Harborough

I have just read Matthew Norman’s brilliant and devastating critique of Cameron’s distasteful and cynical volte face.

As Norman succinctly says – instead of using the opportunity to celebrate the “Union”, he reverts once again to his narrow, cowardly and personal and party self-interest. His smug betrayal of the Queen’s “purring” to David Cameron is typical of  the arrogance and shallowness of the man.

But it was ever thus. It amazes me that he has got away with his underlying nastiness for as long as he has. As a Scot exiled in England, I had no vote and I was in Corsica for the two weeks spanning the referendum. Needless to say the Corsicans all supported  the Yes side but they and many other nationalities we met seemed remarkably interested and well informed on the debate.

Contrast this with the ex-Conservative Ukip- voting taxi driver who took me home from the airport – spouting ill-informed  drivel about Latvian murderers, Brussels, aka the EU, telling our courts what to do, and Nigel Farage being the only politician who identifies with the working man – “well he always has a pint and a fag in his hand don’t he”?

My first few minutes back in the UK and I thought, Oh, Scotland, what have you done to remain saddled to this ignorant nation. Matthew Norman’s article restores a little of the  faith that not all Englanders are little.

Tom Simpson


David Cameron appears incapable of talking to, or about, women without demeaning them – even if the woman concerned is almost twice his age and the monarch.

He was caught on camera gossiping laddishly to foreign politicians about domestic matters of state and patronising the Queen. A few days earlier, at the Nato summit, he astonished a beekeeper by asking if a jar of honey would “make me better in bed?”

Is he losing the plot?

Jean Calder



Your paper appears to regard as something of a joke David Cameron’s remark about the Queen “purring” over the phone when he informed her of the outcome of the Scottish referendum vote (report, 24 September). On the contrary, it strikes me as a very serious matter.

This is not the first time that the Prime Minister has been caught speaking out of turn on subjects on which he ought to keep quiet. He has compromised the Queen’s integrity, and in a less lax – or tolerant – age this would probably have been a resigning matter.

I sincerely hope that the Queen gives him a very sharp rebuke at his next meeting with her.

Nick Chadwick


Mr Cameron’s breach of confidentiality about the Queen’s ‘‘purring’’ satisfaction at the Scottish referendum result is as nothing to his revelation in the next breath that  the whole thing was a  charade that nearly got  out of hand.

Sara Clarke



NHS and Labour not fit for purpose

The Labour Party as per usual wants to appeal to those who think the NHS is marvellous, when it clearly is not. No amount of money

will improve it. It’s past its sell-buy date. Over- bloated, too many over- paid employees in many instances, it’s not fit for purpose. Yet Labour thinks by offering a bribe to

the fickle electorate and the ignorant it hopes to win the next election. This would be a disaster for the UK under Ed Miliband and Ed Balls.

T Sayer



Artificial trees for greenhouse gases

Some 70 years ago, the world was in crisis. A key solution was technical, and so President Roosevelt gathered together the free world’s greatest scientists and engineers to form the Manhattan Project. Today, the world is in crisis, and a key solution is technical – the development of ‘‘artificial trees’’ to extract greenhouse gases directly from the atmosphere.

President Obama’s greatest legacy would be to gather together the free world’s greatest scientists and engineers to work out how this can be done at scale, and for a reasonable cost.

Dennis Sherwood


The lesser of two evils

To quote the last word in Robert Fisk’s article (24 September), I don’t know whether to laugh or cry; to laugh at his visceral anti-Americanism, or to cry at his apparent lack of concern for the victims of Isis. This is a movement which has ridden roughshod over large tracts of territory in Syria and Iraq, establishing a caliphate and, in the process, ruthlessly persecuting those who won’t convert to its brand of Islam.

Sixty thousand Yazidis were driven from their homes and into starvation on Sinjar mountain until rescued by American humanitarian aid. Now we hear that thousands of women have been sold into sex slavery. Space prohibits the listing of the hundreds of other atrocities committed by this evil movement.

There must be concern in Washington, even in obtaining the tacit acceptance of Assad, as the bombing raids spread to Syria, but history is littered with examples of having to choose the lesser of two evils and the reluctant warrior Obama is no George W Bush.

I’m sure Mr Fisk is aware of Isis’s atrocities but he should try and put himself in the position of these helpless, beleaguered victims whose only hope is that the West will rescue them, and understand the joy they must feel hearing the American bombers overhead.

Stuart Russell


Should we airbrush out the druids too?

I was a little surprised that Ben Lynfield seems sympathetic to the idea that Aramean Christians should be denied recognition of their identity.

That their religion and presence pre-dates Islam seems to be lost on him and Arab Knesset member Mohammad Barakeh. I guess he would also suggest that other minority religions should be  airbrushed out of history. Should we do the same for, say, Druids here?

As a small aside you will find Aramaic included in Jewish prayers and it is also the language traditionally used in the Jewish marriage document, known as a Ketubah.

Stewart Cass



We need to learn from our mistakes

It seems that our Government does not learn from history, and often repeats its own mistakes.

Tomorrow, David Cameron is planning on recalling Parliament, and pushing for a vote to authorise Britain’s military involvement in Syria and Iraq. In doing so, it will join the United States, which is already at it.

Many of those militants in the so-called Islamic State were trained by our armed forces last year, to overthrow the Syrian leader Assad. Much of the weaponry in this now- destabilised region was supplied by British and American companies. And if you go back a bit further, those two countries’ forces killed around a million Iraqis following the 2003 illegal invasion.

If we want to avoid any further bloodshed in the Middle East, caused by this country’s military, then we need to demand that this Government votes against another military attack overseas.

Colin Crilly

South London


Indecent assault not school-boy prank

I was surprised at Dave Lee Travis’s conviction apparently for ‘‘fondling’’ somebody’s breasts. My feelings at his actions are that he was behaving in a boorish, unacceptable (to me) manner, but for this to be criminal seems ridiculous. However, this type of behaviour has been treated lightly in the past, although I was always  disgusted by it. It always seemed to be the type of behaviour of someone famous or powerful against a young woman whose complaints would be ignored or brushed off.

A case in point was of Chris Tarrant lifting up the bikini top of Sophie Rhys-Jones – before she was linked to royalty. I was disgusted by his action, which was apparently photographed, but the outrage when this came to light was not about Tarrant’s boorish behaviour, but the fact that someone wanted to publish the photograph.

 To publish the photograph was, of course, offensive, but nobody commented on Tarrant’s offensive action.  I just looked it up on the internet, and this is an excerpt from an article in The Express:

“First, an old photograph – taken before Sophie’s marriage to Edward – had come to light in which the radio presenter Chris Tarrant was seen pulling up her bikini. She was the innocent victim of a schoolboy prank but it hardly helped Sophie’s desire to be taken seriously.”

 “An innocent schoolboy prank.” Need I say more? How times have changed.

John Upright

Pontyclun, Cardiff


Sir, The hook on which our Conservative-led government hung all its subsequent severe cuts to our armed forces — leaving us with the bare rump of a navy with no strike carriers, and an air force with an ever-diminishing inventory of fighting aircraft — was the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review. When that review looked at the threats facing this country, did it list the coming threat from Isis, the threat to Crimea, eastern Ukraine and the Baltic states, to Nigeria and Libya? And if not, why not?

Or was that review just a cost-cutting exercise designed to provide a fig leaf to the coming cuts? And when the defence experts foresaw the unexpected as being the greatest threat, did the Treasury tell them that budgeting for the unexpected was a no-go area?
Rear Admiral Conrad Jenkin
West Meon, Hants

Sir, In the discussion about the campaign of air strikes against Isil guerrillas in northern Iraq three key issues have not been fully addressed:

First, Turkey, the one Muslim state that is a member of Nato, must be helped to cope with the massive flow of refugees from Iraq and Syria, not only financially, but if the Turkish government agrees, also, by volunteers with experience in the work of caring for them.

Second, the rules of engagement for forces involved in air strikes should make it clear that civilians must be protected as far as possible. More air strikes against people already terrorised by Isil, such as the Kurds in northern Iraq, will alienate those whose support is crucial.

Third, the US, the UK and France, along with Turkey and Jordan, must raise through diplomatic channels the need for Arab allies, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, to cease support for the jihadis, whether through supplying arms or through madrasses training boys and young men to become recruits.
Shirley Williams

House of Lords, London

Sir, Ed Miliband says Britain should seek UN sanction for air strikes on Isil in Syria. However, if the UN refuses to allow such military action surely this will place the US, which is already carrying out such air strikes, in the position of taking military action in defiance of the UN. Does Mr Miliband really wish us to embarrass our American ally?
Robert Strachan
Edgware, Middlesex

Sir, Without a UN mandate or an explicit invitation from the Syrian government, action against Isis in Syria is illegal under international law. If the government’s view is that due process at the UN is a waste of time, we should “do the right thing” and withdraw our membership. If not, we should demand that the Security Council decides on action. Short of that, we will be falling into the trap that Isis has set for us.
Simon Prentis

Sir, David Cameron now speaks the same rhetoric I heard from Tony Blair prior to our invasion of Iraq in 2003. We were wrong to get involved in America’s crusade then, and we are wrong now. Far from being uniquely evil, the Islamic State is simply one actor in a Sunni uprising. They are not a threat to Britain. They are extreme but rational players who are successful only through the support of a large portion of the local population.
Bilal Patel
London E1

Sir, Can everyone stop referring to Isis and call it EAIS — Enemies against Islamic States — instead? It does not in any way represent any Islamic state.
Ben May
London N1

Sir, Dictators and fundamentalist “religious” leaders all employ hypnotherapeutic principles to get ideas past a person’s critical faculty. If they succeed, then that part of the mind controlling behaviour treats that concept as true: in short, it becomes a belief. It doesn’t matter what the idea is — the reprogrammed mind can happily destroy innocents in the belief of a reward. Isis is clever. It focuses on the mind while we appear to focus on drones, bombs and hardware.
Fraser White
Bunbury, Cheshire

Sir, Is this a good time for the UK to tow our aircraft carrier to the eastern Mediterranean?
Martin Bean
Ryde, Isle of Wight

Sir, Tim Montgomerie’s opinion piece (“Ed wouldn’t say the D-Word. The Tories must”, Sept 25) was excellent. For too long all parties have argued on how “to up the cake” rather than concentrating on how to make it bigger. We all realise that there is a need to improve standards in many sectors, but also people must be encouraged to work harder and take more responsibility for their own needs. We have massive, and growing, imbalances on both the internal account and on our external payments. It might be politically difficult but this is the message that parties need to be honest about, rather than giving easy sound bites.
Roy Harrison
Prestbury, Cheshire

Sir, Tim Montgomerie calls me a “contrarian”. I’m not one.
Peter Hitchens
Derry Street, London W8

Sir, My family business produced large volumes of apples but in 1999 we took out our orchards in order to focus on other crops (“Battle to keep apple crumble British”, Sept 24). The decline in British apple production has several reasons but one trend has been the relationship between family incomes and the cost of food since the war. In 1949 a box of Kentish apples paid for a man’s wages for a whole week; when we removed our orchards 50 years later, the equivalent value did not cover half an hour.

Since we stopped producing apples, a number of growers have been creating a renaissance with new systems and higher yielding varieties, all at their own cost. During this same period, the environment department now headed by Liz Truss has removed funding for research in support of the crop for which she expresses so much enthusiasm. One can only hope that she will match her words with deeds and put British apples back at the top of the tree.
Peter Vinson
Faversham, Kent

Sir, My late father, who loved his Russets and Cox’s English Pippins, considered French Golden Delicious to be a contravention of the Trades Descriptions Act.
Gillian Wilson

Sir, One million British workers are exposed to levels of noise that puts hearing at risk, and noise-induced hearing loss is a serious, permanent and debilitating condition (“Insurers cry ‘foul’ over rising claims of industrial deafness”, Business, Sept 22). This is entirely preventable, and employers who take note of the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005 should have risk assessments on file.

An ENT specialist can also diagnose whether deafness is likely to have been caused by long-term exposure to loud noise. Industrial deafness is not a grey area in the context of insurance fraud.
Steve Perkins
Chief executive officer, British Occupational Hygiene Society

Sir, I think I can better Matthew Parris’s tale about two left shoes (“I’m a Tory, I simply could not have two left feet”, Sept 28). My father’s friend would walk across fields to catch the 8.30am train in wellington boots. At the station he would change into his well-polished black shoes, handing the boots to the porter for safekeeping. One morning, arriving late, he leapt on to the train and tossed the boots out of the window to the porter. He then sat down and opened his briefcase . . . no shoes!
Neil MacFadyen


Jihadi groups in Syria fear they may be targeted by American air strikes  Photo: AFP/Getty Images

6:58AM BST 25 Sep 2014


SIR – Proposals for air strikes against Islamist fighters in Iraq and Syria ignore the likely outcome: that bombing campaigns will fail and soldiers will be needed on the ground, and that the inevitable civilian casualties will act as a recruiting tool for extremists.

Here in Britain we have lost control of our borders, significantly reduced our police forces, and are faced with a growing internal threat of home-grown terrorism which is stretching our security services to breaking point. We don’t need another failed military campaign; let’s put our own house in order first.

Ian Hurrell
Salisbury, Wiltshire

SIR – It is now some years since Tony Blair mistakenly joined America in the invasion of Iraq to “free” that country from the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have since been killed. We are now honour-bound to help that country with military assistance if need be.

Don Roberts
Prenton, Wirral

Cameron’s royal gaffe

SIR – If David Cameron is guilty of such a breach of protocol as to pass on a private conversation with the Queen, one can only wonder how many other unreported gaffes he makes at international conferences.

Kevin Heneghan
St Helens, Lancashire

SIR – When David Cameron is kicked out by the Conservatives, I will positively purr.

Robert Hall
Skipton, North Yorkshire

In search of Lee’s Rosie

SIR – I always thought that Mrs Rose Bayliss, a garage owner in Cheltenham, was the original Rosie in Cider with Rosie, rather than Rosalind Buckland, who would, as your obituary said, have been only nine during the period depicted in the book.

Rose Bayliss didn’t actually embrace her would-be fame, and said she thought Laurie Lee was “a bit wet”.

Lynn Davis
Finglesham, Kent

Free range

SIR – Last week we enjoyed a trip to Legoland with our daughter, son-in-law, and two-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter.

There I was struck by how many children were in buggies, even children well over four. Apparently it is easier for the parents to have the child contained, as a loose toddler is a liability.

Children are consuming huge amounts of calories and expending very few, contributing to our rising obesity problem. It is important that they run about in order to experience different surfaces, tone their bodies and learn control – as well as the meaning of such words as “no” and “stop”.

Jane Ludlow
Canterbury, Kent

Forbidden fruit

SIR – What those who complained about remarks in The Great British Bake Off fail to realise is that you have to have a dirty mind to recognise smut. To the pure of thought, a pear is a pear and a cherry a cherry.

Les Sharp
Hersham, Surrey

Last laugh for Germans

SIR – In 1959, I went to live in Hanover – a city that had been destroyed by the RAF just 14 years earlier – and I was offered only friendship and kindness by the locals. I share the bewilderment of Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, at the attitude of some of my fellow countrymen to modern Germany.

Who are these people still fighting the Second World War in their minds? Certainly not those who actually fought in the war, many of whom gladly attend reunions as guests of their former enemies.

Nor are they likely to be people who have been to Germany and witnessed first-hand how much our countries have in common.

These monoglot Britons delight in saying that the Germans have no sense of humour, but when Germans visit Britain and observe their cars on our streets and appliances in our homes, they do, indeed, laugh – all the way to the bank.

Peter le Feuvre
Funtington, West Sussex

A private lesson

SIR – The difference in teaching hours between the independent and state sectors (Letters, September 23) is not the point.

Independent-sector teachers can use their skill and initiative within a tried-and-tested curriculum. Those in the state sector spend most of their time under pressure from government requirements, drowning in paperwork and teaching to exams.

Mik Shaw
Goring-by-Sea, Sussex

Every statement helps?

SIR – Regarding Tesco’s £250 million black hole, its chairman, Sir Richard Broadbent, explained: Things are always unnoticed until they have been noticed. Is this the most unhelpful statement ever made?

Peter Birch
Cuffley, Hertfordshire

Colour-coded children

SIR – Emma Watson spoke this week about gender equality.

Why did Jeremy Silverton (whose family had not had a baby girl for a century) feel the need to repaint the nursery pink for his daughter and not keep it blue? This attitude perpetuates inequality through the generations.

David Bowman
Andover, Hampshire

How best to resolve the problem of devolution

SIR – In the debate over devolution for England, there are three things to consider.

First, given the overwhelming rejection of regional government in the North East in a referendum in 2004, the poor electoral response to the concepts of elected mayors and police commissioners, and the lack of any political demand for devolution in England hitherto, it seems unwise to get over-enthusiastic about the subject.

Secondly, any proposed large-scale constitutional revision would have to be put to the electorate in a referendum.

Thirdly, a new written constitution might well end up abolishing the House of Lords, introducing proportional representation (PR) and giving extra powers to the kind of judges who today rule on human rights.

The easiest thing for Conservatives to do would be to suggest that the Speaker, on the advice of the Commons, should compile a list of topics on which Scottish MPs could not vote. Labour should agree to a minimum list and threaten to introduce PR in general elections if the Conservatives were too radical. In this way, the Prime Minister’s complacency and later panic over Scotland could do the least damage to the constitution.

Professor Alan Sked
London School of Economics, London WC2

SIR – I can quite see David Cameron’s difficulties in fulfilling the promises all three parties made regarding devolution.

However, there is only a problem because, while we may have union, we have never had a union of equals. The South and, in particular, the London establishment, have always exercised undue influence over UK policy.

The solution? Transform Westminster into the English parliament, abolish the House of Lords, and build a new UK parliament in the north of England to which the constituent parts of the UK elect representatives to deal with those issues not devolved to the federated countries.

Esther Read
Carnoustie, Angus

Lest we forget: an installation of ceramic poppies surrounds the Tower of London Photo: Alamy

6:59AM BST 25 Sep 2014


SIR – We visited the Tower of London last week and marvelled at the wonderful ceramic poppy cascade within the moat.

Fired with enthusiasm, we grabbed our wallets in order to make a purchase. How sad to then be told that this could only be achieved online, rather than on-site. We couldn’t even make the online purchase in the information centre at the Tower.

Unlike our brave forebears, we were forced to retreat and, much chastened, we left for home feeling sadly deflated – a lost opportunity.

How many other visitors leave feeling similarly disenchanted and never actually follow up with an online purchase?

What a shame and what a loss to the charities involved.

Nigel Embry
Byfleet, Surrey

Ed Miliband at the Labour Party conference in Manchester Photo: Eddie Mulholland/The Telegraph

7:00AM BST 25 Sep 2014


SIR – In proposing to reform the House of Lords in his conference speech on Tuesday, the Labour leader Ed Miliband seems to have conveniently overlooked the fact that he, and a majority of Labour MPs, let it be known that they would vote against the timetable being proposed for the House of Lords Reform Bill in July 2012, and thus the Bill was dropped.

As far as his promises on the NHS are concerned, it appears that even Andy Burnham, his shadow health secretary who made a complete hash of the job when in office, had no clue as to where the money would come from to meet such promises.

Bharat Jashanmal
Fairford, Gloucestershire

SIR – I am deeply concerned about the health of the NHS under a future Labour government.

If Ed Miliband imposes a mansion tax to prop up the NHS, many of the people who currently manage to pay for private health insurance out of taxed income will be forced to give this up, adding to the burden on public health services.

Caroline Barr
Much Wenlock, Shropshire

SIR – It is fanciful to suggest that a mansion tax will make a major contribution to funding the NHS. A tax on mansions will cause their value to drop.

The total raised from collection of stamp duty and from this proposed tax will be less as a result.

Mansion owners will be hit three ways. First, they will suffer the drop in value. Secondly, they will bear the tax itself and they must find the money to pay it, probably by selling investments or taking out equity release mortgages at high compound interest rates. And finally, when they die, their estates will yield a lot less in inheritance tax. Far from saving the NHS, this tax would cost the Exchequer dearly.

Mark Homan
Radlett, Hertfordshire

SIR – Where exactly does Ed Miliband think that he can find an extra 20,000 nurses, 8,000 GPs, 5,000 home-care workers and 3,000 midwives?

Ken Culley
Marlborough, Wiltshire

SIR – Was Ed Miliband applying to be our prime minister or just auditioning for his local amateur theatre?

It is revealing that he was more focused on how to say his lines (unscripted) rather than on what to say, resulting in the omissions in his speech of vital issues such as the deficit and the state of the economy.

Richard Searby
London N3

SIR – That Mr Miliband “forgot” to mention the economy is hardly surprising.

After all, he and his colleagues forgot about the economy for the 13 years Labour was in power.

Dominic Regan
Little Coxwell, Oxfordshire

Irish Times:

A chara, – A “democratic revolution”, a “new kind of politics”, whichever populist idiom they used, Fine Gael and Labour promised an end to the kind of stroke politics that blighted Irish politics in the past.

However, the appointment of John McNulty to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art (Imma) shows that this Government is mired in the sort of cronyism and “strokes” that have caused so many problems for this country in the past.

Fine Gael Ministers have claimed that Mr McNulty would bring valuable business experience to the board of Imma, yet now he has resigned. So how much experience is he going to bring to the Seanad from that short time?

That explanation simply does not stack up, and quite frankly those Ministers that have trotted out that line have damaged their own credibility.– Is mise,


Lismore Road,

Crumlin, Dublin 12.

Sir, – Desmond FitzGerald (September 25th) takes issue with John McNulty’s candidacy for a Seanad Éireann vacancy.

Mr FitzGerald should understand that the vacancy arises on the Seanad’s “Cultural and Educational Panel”. Mr McNulty is a longstanding volunteer manager of under-age and adult football teams in Kilcar and Donegal.

He thus represents the thousands of people who are the State’s most important cultural leaders and youth educators, week in and week out.

Perhaps Mr FitzGerald thinks that the vacancy arises on the “High Cultural Panel”. The GAA is our nation’s most important socio-cultural movement.

We need more people like John McNulty in our national parliament. – Yours, etc,




Co Roscommon.

Sir, – I visit galleries and exhibitions; I go to the theatre; I read books; I have attended numerous art classes. Apparently it is also important that I am a woman and live in north Clare. I don’t understand why I haven’t been called to join the board of Imma. But I haven’t run for any political party. That must be it. – Yours, etc,




Co Clare.

Sir, – I’m wondering if John McNulty’s appointment to the Imma board and nomination to the Seanad are actually part of an installation piece.

If so, I applaud Minister for the Arts Heather Humphreys for her bold creativity and let’s not forget her patron, Enda Kenny .

It certainly is a challenging piece to understand and unfortunately may be used by those afraid of modern art as an example of a total waste of taxpayers’ money. But I say bravo to all involved. – Yours, etc,


Allin Street,

Culver City,

Los Angeles.

Sir, – Your editorial “Bombing Syria” (September 24th) assumes that the UN doctrine of “responsibility to protect”, or R2P, would entitle the US and its allies to take military action against Islamic State targets in Syria without UN Security Council backing.

The 2005 world summit at which the heads of state approved the terms of R2P, later agreed in UN Security Council resolution 1674, explicitly stated that member states are “prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the charter . . . on a case-by-case basis”.

In international law, R2P sets out a responsibility – to be exercised through the UN Security Council – and not a right. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – The Irish Times, for the first time as far as I am aware, raises the question of “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) in relation to Syria – “then there’s the UN doctrine of ‘responsibility to protect’, certainly arguable in relation to the genocidal threat to Kurds fleeing IS advances inside Syria near the border town of Kobani”.

However do crimes by the Assad regime not also warrant mention of R2P? Roughly half the population of Syria has already been forced to flee their homes since the Syrian peaceful protests in Spring 2011 were crushed by the regime. Thousands have been killed, imprisoned and brutalised in Syrian “gulags”. Yet the regime, undeterred, continues its daily aerial bombardment, killing scores of civilians, including children.

There is “massive evidence of … war crimes and crimes against humanity” indicating “responsibility at the highest level of government including the head of state”, according to Navi Pillay, former UNHCHR director last December.

In a strongly worded presentation at Dublin’s Institute of Europe on July 11th (the anniversary of Srebrenica), Dr Simon Adams, executive director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, moved by two particular images of Syria – one of the devastation in Homs, the other of a child who had frozen to death – stated that “there could hardly be a more damning indictment of the international community’s abject failure to uphold its responsibility to protect the people of Syria than those two images”.

It is “certainly arguable” that this failure and the failure to adequately support early on the moderate armed opposition forces were significant factors in the rise of Islamic State.

According to Dr Jonaj Schullofer-Wohl of the University of Virginia, “Higher levels of western military and financial support – if provided expeditiously – could have prevented radical Islamist groups from occupying a dominant position within the opposition”.

Your editorial seems more preoccupied, however, with the “somewhat dubious legality” of the anti-IS coalition entering Syria without Assad’s permission rather than the protection of those still left at the mercy of his brutal regime. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 7.

Sir, – I must confess that I had never heard of rule 68 of the “Rules for National Schools” until it was reported by Joe Humphreys (“Change in ‘archaic’ rule on religious teaching sought”, September 24th) but, now that you mention it, I quite like it. I checked the rule book and number 68 says that the teacher should “constantly inculcate the practice of charity, justice, truth, purity, patience, temperance, obedience to lawful authority, and all the other moral virtues”.

Actually I think I’d like to live in that sort of country. – Yours, etc,


Clarinda Park North,

Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin.

Sir, – In recent years it has been widely acknowledged that our public education system fails to respect the basic rights of those citizens, particularly non-Catholics, who may have little choice but to attend denominational schools. This raises questions concerning not only the divestment of schools from denominational control, but also concerning how, in the interim, citizens in this position should be accommodated within the school environment.

For the most part, this is now dealt with on an ad hoc basis by schools themselves. It is in this light that the Minister for Education has proposed to amend the controversial provision of the “Rules for National Schools”, from 1968, which states that a religious spirit should “inform and vivify” the whole work of the school.

Certainly, this acknowledges a fundamental problem in the status quo – that the integration of a denominational ethos across the whole school environment may make it impossible, in practice, for non-coreligionists to exercise their right not to participate in religious exercises. However, the rules are not enforceable legal protections but merely a set of flexible ministerial guidelines. What is needed is legislation – and particularly, amendments to the Education Act and the Equal Status Act – that clearly defines how schools are to accommodate parents’ and children’s constitutional rights. Adjusting the rules seems like impotent gesture politics by comparison.

Moreover, it seems wrong to address issues of fundamental concern through a form of ministerial rule-making that bypasses parliamentary scrutiny and control. Only through comprehensive legislative reform can the State exercise its responsibility as a protector of rights. – Yours, etc,


School of Law,

NUI Galway.

Sir, – It seems that the debate on the housing crisis has slipped back into the usual format – a zero-sum tug-of-war between competing lobby groups and vested interests that prefer writing press releases and issuing grandiose statements to rolling up their sleeves to work out an ambitious yet feasible plan.

Since the approval by An Bord Pleanála of “fast-track planning” for what was referred to as high-rise housing for the Dublin Docklands in May, there has been precious little attention given to the actual low-density schemes from those who claim to want affordable housing for all.

Meanwhile, media outlets concentrate on a queue outside one particular development or on dizzying price rises in the more fashionable locations.

I had hoped that the lamentably low density of the proposed development and the timidity of the plans for Dublin’s dreary skyline might provoke a call to arms by those concerned by unaffordable housing, but not so far.

Ireland is frequently compared unfavourably to the Scandinavian countries by the trendy youth and those on the left, yet the type of medium-density city housing I witnessed a recent visit to Copenhagen inspires neither planners nor housing advocates.

Are the minutiae of housing density, design and provision not sexy enough for the media and lobby groups or do they simply have short attention spans? – Yours, etc,


Griffeen Glen Avenue,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – In an interview shortly after being appointed as Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar said an awful lot of money had been taken out of general practice. Yesterday, after the GP protest, he stated that fees had gone up for GPs since this Government came to power. Both of these statements cannot be true at the same time.

The fact is that in 2002 the government paid €282 million for 1,168,745 medical card holders. It now pays €469 million for 1,853,877 medical card holders; and if it adds children under six, it will pay €503 million for 2,253,000 medical cards.

If it had maintained the payments in line with inflation since 2002, the Primary Care Reimbursement Service would now need to pay €700 million per year, an effective cut in resources of €200 million.

I would believe Dr Varadkar if he said that the Government could not afford to do this, which he was invited to do at the rally.

It does him no credit in the face of the crisis actually happening right now to the provision of medical services in Ireland to resort to this type of spin. It would be even worse if he actually believed what he was saying were true. – Yours, etc,





Sir, – I concur with Eamonn McCann with regard to his observations on the Ryder Cup (“US golfer’s bad hair day pushes talk of Irish split down agenda”, Opinion & Analysis). During the last week or so, listening to the radio, I have heard on an almost hourly basis such words as “vision, leadership, strategy, wisdom, mentor, motivation, secret plans, captain”, and so on.

It is bizarre that otherwise rational adults and media organisations devote so much time and seriousness to such an utterly pointless activity. – Yours, etc,


Newtown Road,


Co Kildare.

Sir, – Like Neil O’Brien (September 24th), I will be avoiding the Ryder Cup this weekend but, I think, for slightly different reasons. Professional golf is, I believe, unique in one particular respect. It is the only sport in which spectators watch primarily to see the best in the world play a game that many of us play to varying degrees of mediocrity. We want to see how it is done properly. One result of this is that it is possible, even while having one’s favourites, to cheer every example of good play, and hope that, at the end of the day, the best player, no matter who, wins the day. Sportsmanship is exhibited, for the most part, by players and spectators alike.

The Ryder Cup is changing all that. Fuelled by television companies looking to increase revenues, we are now seeing bad shots (by the other team) cheered, opposition players intimidated, and partisan chanting by “barmy army”-type supporters. Players talk about “getting the crowd going” in the hope that this, rather than superior play, will bring victory. If anyone thinks that the sort of behaviour that will be seen by the likes of Ian Poulter over the next few days is improving the image of the game, then I think they should move to another sport.

I will be looking forward to the Solheim Cup which, for the present at least, seems to be maintaining the standards that make golf great. – Yours, etc,


Seafield Crescent,

Booterstown, Co Dublin.

A chara, – In relation to the views expressed by Neil O’Brien regarding the “pressures of golf” in the Ryder Cup, one would have to agree wholeheartedly. It never ceases to amaze me the amount of column inches and airtime devoted to a sport where millionaires essentially and ponderously club a little ball around a scenic area for four hours.

Give me a hot-blooded hurling match, for instance, where players play with skills, instinct and vitality. In comparison the game of golf appears anaemic, sterile, overanalysed and overindulged. – Is mise,


Sandyford View,


Dublin 18.

Sir, – Having read your Comment & Letters page (September 24th), I remain somewhat confused. Did Malachy Clerkin (“Is there no end to Denis O’Brien’s intervention in Irish sport?”, September 18th) upset James Morrissey, media adviser to Denis O’Brien, or Denis O’Brien, media “advisee” of James Morrissey?

If the latter, then why didn’t he write his own letter? – Yours, etc,


Laurel Court,


Co Cork.

Sir, – I was disappointed to read Darragh Ó Sé’s comments about Kerry’s All-Ireland win last Sunday, and in particular what he said about the nature of winning (“The middle third”, September 24th, 2014).

Having freely admitted that the final “was a terrible game” and that both teams were responsible for that, he then said, “But this is about winning. Get the medal in the drawer and let people sing laments for the game all through the winter”.

I couldn’t disagree more. Of all the counties in the Gaelic football tradition, Kerry have always embraced the philosophy of winning in style, whilst remaining true to the fundamental skills of the game.

This, of course, can’t always be done and I accept that they were short of key players this year and had a relatively modest team on paper. In light of that, their achievement is a magnificent one. However, the tripe served up to us on Sunday does not necessarily bode well for the future of the game and the Ulster-initiated blanket defence system should be rejected out of hand, rather than emulated.

Furthermore, the unwritten commandment of “win at all costs”, so often faithfully followed in professional sports, has no place in our amateur games. With those same games comes a certain tradition. A departure from that tradition is, in my view, a betrayal. – Is mise,


Larchfield Road,

Goatstown, Dublin 14.

Sir, – Further to Declan Service’s letter on paying €6.85 for a pint of Carlsberg (September 25th), at the risk of stating the obvious, Mr Service should do as I have done for many years and avoid Temple Bar and its rip-off pint prices. The message will eventually be heard. – Yours, etc,


Devenish Road,

Dublin 12.

Sir, – I see from the Irish Water application form that I will not get an allowance for my dog Harry. – Yours, etc,


Cromwellsfort Road,


Dublin 12.

Sir, – Fintan O’Toole writes (“Things that haven’t changed since the crash”, Opinion & Analysis, September 23rd) that we are emerging from a disastrous recession. Are we not emerging from the after-effects of a disastrous boom? – Yours, etc,


Woodbine Road,

Blackrock, Co Dublin.

Sir, – Do you think that it might be possible that motorcycle and moped manufacturers might invent a self-cancelling indicator? – Yours, etc ,


St John’s Road,

Sandymount, Dublin 4.

Irish Independent:

As a Dubliner who has lived on the continent for many years, I wonder why we don’t stand up against the rising rent prices.

Rents are going through the roof. Housing is unaffordable. For every flat available, there are 20 couples queuing. There is absolutely no humanity in any of this. The Government is asleep. I pay €1,200 rent for a 1-bed, 45-metre-square place – not even in Dublin city but in Co Dublin.

Try raising the rent in France, and see what happens. Within 24 hours, you’ll have 100,000 people protesting on the streets of Paris. Landlords are not even allowed to remove their tenants when they haven’t paid their rent for half a year.

Why does our joke of a Government not protect the middle class and cap the rents? Is it because it has bought half of all the property through NAMA? Why do we just let this happen and suffer in silence? Is it in our blood after 800 years of foreign rule? We must break with our sad past and stand up like dignified citizens.

All I am asking is for us to demand that those who represent us actually represent us. Cap the rents – don’t let us struggle while the rich get richer.

Ciaran O’Brien

Blackrock, Co Dublin

Birds and bees at the Ploughing

In beautiful autumn weather, the 2014 National Ploughing Championships took off at Ratheniska, Co Laois. The great open-air festival, believed to be the biggest in Europe, is attracted massive crowds from north, south, east and west. Past records for numbers were far exceeded on the first day increased as the event went on.

The National Ploughing Championships is where two worlds collide and city dwellers mix with the best of rural Ireland – some realising for the first time the true origin of their bread and butter, cheese, milk, burgers and omelettes.

There is something for all ages and all tastes in the 1,400 exhibits: hobbies, education, religion, sport, media, prize livestock, birds and bees. The huge modern agricultural machinery, dairy technology and the Ploughing Championships themselves naturally dominate the scene. It is where the farmers mix business with pleasure, meet new acquaintances and really enjoy the few days’ break from the homestead.

Eamon Tracey, who was just back from France after being crowned World Champion Ploughman, was the big attraction in the ploughing area.

Sprightly President Michael D Higgins, with his wife Sabina, officially launched the event and said that farming was the cornerstone of Ireland’s society, economy and identity, supporting 300,000 jobs in the agri-food sector. The President also urged that the fruits of agricultural development be shared around and not just divided among the richer and biggest.

The 700-acre site with 1,400 exhibits had a temporary staff of over 400 stewards, judges and managers. Catering outlets were geared up to serve 60,000 teas and coffees and provide 30,000 breakfasts daily, with the necessary carbohydrates from 14 acres of potatoes.

To crown off this day of days, you couldn’t leave without hearing Richie Kavanagh’s latest song, ‘Water Meters’!

James Gleeson

Thurles, Co Tipperary

Obama: champ or chump?

US President Barack Obama is proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain and Qatar.

With the exception of Jordan, none are our friends.

None are countries in the traditional understanding of the term. They are all family-owned businesses.

None of the royals has a modicum of interest in human rights. The royal families live lavishly off the oil wealth they neither discovered nor developed.

These tribal kings have contributed nothing to the world. Now, as Isil is running rampant over Iraq and Syria, they know they are in the cross-hairs of the jihadist terrorists they have so often supported.

We now have the United States of America fighting to save the Islamic kings who have fleeced us for decades.

Is Obama the champ, or the chump, of the Middle East?

Len Bennett

Montreal, Quebec, Canada

It’s all about tactics, not the score

Fred Molloy’s letter (Irish Independent, September 23) in which he laments the “dull” All-Ireland football final, represents an attitude common among the public, but one that I don’t understand.

When people describe a game as “boring” they really mean “low-scoring”. (If you disagree with that, I challenge you to name the last evenly matched high-scoring game that was dull).

Some have suggested handicapping defences by allowing only two hand-passes before kicking, or some similar nonsense.

Why not go further and only allow one-eyed full-backs or mandate that the half-backs be over the age of 45? This would definitely make for high scoring and would liven up every game for the viewing masses.

I would urge Mr Molloy, and those who share his sentiments, to learn to appreciate the defensive art and the tactical battle that is the modern game.

John O’Donnell

Quin, Co Clare

Reverse sexism

Europcar Ireland, the car rental company, is airing a radio advertisement, which has a woman saying, “My mother said you were useless” to her husband.

I think there is mistake in there somewhere, and it is meant to be the man saying this to the woman. Or would that not be acceptable, or even viewed as verbal abuse, which could see him end up in court?

Robert Sullivan

Bantry, Co Cork

I’m a celebrity . . . solicitor

Pray tell, what is a celebrity solicitor? Is it unique to the legal profession, indeed can one get a celebrity plumber, for instance? Maybe some reader will get on the case and have the answer on tap?

Tom Gilsenan

Beaumont Dublin 9

Isil’s rampage must be stopped

Edward Horgan (Letters, Irish Independent, September 25) criticised Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan for his condemnation of Russia’s involvement in Ukraine on one hand while supporting the US-led air strikes against Islamic State (Isil) in Syria on the other.

Mr Horgan says: “The minister failed to mention that these air strikes contravene international law, because they do not have UN Security Council approval.”

It is difficult to get approval when some of the permanent members of the UN Security Council continually vote against reasonable resolutions. However, even Russia has given tacit support to US air strikes in Syria.

Surely, Mr Horgan knows that Isil is an organisation that operates outside all international laws and human decency and that its rampage through Iraq and Syria is almost universally condemned?

Perhaps he should prioritise his concerns towards the plight of those fleeing in terror from Isil and the humanitarian disaster that is taking place on Turkey’s borders, instead of focusing on what he perceives as breaches of international law.

John Bellew

Dunleer, Co Louth

Irish Independent

Mercedes and Meg

September 25, 2014

25 September 2014 Mercedes and Meg

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day. Mercedes and perhaps the last we will see of Meg.

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down gammon for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.


Dowager Duchess of Devonshire – obituary

The Dowager Duchess of Devonshire was the devoted chatelaine of Chatsworth and the last of the Mitford sisters

The Duchess at Chatsworth in 2005

The Duchess at Chatsworth in 2005 Photo: REX

3:32PM BST 24 Sep 2014


The Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, who has died aged 94, was the youngest and last of the celebrated Mitford sisters, and the chatelaine of Chatsworth, the “Palace of the Peak” in Derbyshire, which from the 1950s onwards she made into both a glorious public spectacle and, really for the first time, a consummately stylish private home.

She was born Deborah Vivien Freeman-Mitford on March 31 1920, the sixth daughter of the eccentric 2nd Lord Redesdale, well-known to readers of Nancy Mitford’s novels as “Uncle Matthew”. “Debo” (as she was always known) was repeatedly assured throughout her childhood by her eldest sister Nancy that “everybody cried when you were born” on account of her being yet another girl.

The Mitford family in 1933 with Debo on bottom right

Debo took refuge in quaintly odd pursuits. Another sister, Jessica (“Decca”) Mitford, described her spending “silent hours in the chicken house learning to do an exact imitation of the look of pained concentration that comes over a hen’s face when it is laying an egg, and each morning she methodically checked over and listed in a notebook the stillbirths reported in the vital statistics columns of The Times”.

As the youngest in a family of seven, Debo was constantly and mercilessly teased, despite the bellowing championship of her father. She was passionately fond of the country and country pursuits, and did not suffer from the brilliant, restless boredom so well-documented by her sisters. None of the girls was sent to school, as their father thought education for girls unnecessary; a succession of governesses was employed, one of whom, Miss Pratt, had her charges playing Racing Demon daily from 9am until lunchtime.

Debo on her way to Ascot in 1938 (TOPHAM PICTUREPOINT)

As a girl Debo was a fine skater, and was invited to join the British junior team; but the idea was vetoed by her mother. As an adolescent she witnessed several scandals surrounding her sisters — Diana’s divorce and remarriage, Jessica’s elopement, Unity’s involvement with Hitler — as well as the disintegration of her parents’ marriage.

She was famous for having chanted as a child, in moments of distress: “One day he’ll come along, the Duke I love.” When she married Lord Andrew Cavendish in 1941, however, he was a mere second son. Debo wrote to her sister, Diana Mosley, then in Holloway prison: “I expect we shall be terrificly [sic] poor but think how nice to have as many dear dogs and things as one likes without anyone to say they must get off the furniture.”

Debo remained surrounded by dogs for the rest of her life. In The House: A Portrait of Chatsworth (1982), the delightful and bestselling book she wrote, in between doing a lot of sums to illustrate that 365 ordinary-sized residences could fit into The House, with its 7,873 panes of glass and 53 lavatories, the Duchess took care to inform the reader: “It’s a terrible place to house-train a puppy.”

The Duke and Duchess on their wedding day in 1941 (RAYMONDS)

In 1944 Andrew’s elder brother was killed in action, and in 1950 the 10th Duke unexpectedly died. The Devonshires were left with 80 per cent death duties which took 17 years to settle. In 1959 they moved to Chatsworth, uninhabited since before the war.

When she had first seen the house after the war she had thought it “sad, dark, cold and dirty. It wasn’t like a house at all, but more like a barracks.” It had not been redecorated for decades, and during the war had been home to a girls’ boarding school.

But Debo embraced her role of chatelaine gaily, as she set about redecorating the house. “Debo has become the sort of English duchess who doesn’t feel the cold,” reported Nancy, disconsolately.

The Duchess was both beautiful and deceptively literate, although exceptionally modest. Lucian Freud painted her when she was 34, and Debo used to delight in the story of how an old woman was heard remarking, as she stood before the painting: “That’s the Dowager Duchess. It was taken the year before she died.” When the painting was completed, Freud allowed the Duke and Duchess to see it at his studio. “Someone else was already there,” she later recalled. “Andrew looked long at the picture until the other man asked, ‘Who is that?’ ‘It’s my wife.’ ‘Well, thank God it’s not mine’.”

She also sat for Annigoni, to whom she found herself apologising for her face: “I know it’s not the sort you like.” The artist replied, not very graciously: “Oh well, it doesn’t matter, it’s not your fault.”

The Duchess kept aloof from her family’s literary and political pursuits. She visited her Fascist sister Diana in prison, and her Communist sister Decca in California, keeping a light touch with both.

After visiting Decca and doing the rounds of her Communist friends, Debo sent Decca a photograph of herself and her husband, dressed in their ducal robes for a coronation, garlanded with orders, chains and jewels, staring stonily ahead. Beneath the photo she wrote: “Andrew and me being active.”

Nancy used to address letters to her sister “Nine, Duchess of Devonshire”, her contention being that Debo never developed beyond the mental age of nine. Certainly the Duchess always maintained that she never read books and that her favourite reading matter was the British goatkeepers’ monthly journal, Fancy Fowl magazine and Beatrix Potter.

The epigraph in her book The House is taken from Hobbes, who was tutor to the 2nd and 3rd Dukes of Devonshire: “Reading is a pernicious habit. It destroys all originality of sentiment.”

The Duchess at Chatsworth in 2003 (CAMERA PRESS)

Chatsworth, however, was always filled with literati, and Patrick Leigh Fermor, a great friend, was determined that Debo was a closet reader, who sneaked books the way alcoholics sneak whisky. As a writer, she was a natural storyteller with a knack for the telling phrase and a delight in human eccentricities.

Certainly The House is a wonderfully rich and beautifully written work. It is organised around a Handbook of Chatsworth written in 1844 in the form of a letter from the “Bachelor Duke” (the 6th) to his sister and is full of very funny accounts of the foibles of earlier dukes and duchesses. Among other stories, it chronicles the war waged against woodworm by the wife of the 9th Duke (the former Lady Evelyn Fitzmaurice). Believing concussion to be the answer, the formidable beldame kept a little hammer in her bag to bang the furniture where they lurked.

The Duchess showed acute commercial flair in raising money for the Chatsworth estate, making a nonsense of her sister Nancy’s generalisation in Noblesse Oblige that aristocrats are no good at making money. She presided over the bread, cake, jam and chutney industries which grew up to feed the farm shop, which was described by the late Hugh Massingberd in The Daily Telegraph as “every greedy child’s idea of what a shop should be”.

Although the house had been open to the public ever since it was built, it was not until 1947 that the revenue from visitors went towards its upkeep. In 1973 the Duchess set up the Farmyard at Chatsworth, “to explain to the children that food is produced by farmers who also look after the land and that the two functions are inextricably mixed”. A little boy from Sheffield watched the milking, then told the Duchess: “It’s the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen in my life. I’ll never drink milk again.”

Visitors to Chatsworth are able to buy items such as souvenirs, books, porcelain, knitwear, while the Farm Shop sells estate produce. A mail order business was established, along with cafés, restaurants and a commercial catering business.

Chatsworth Carpenters was an especially successful venture. The Duchess, in her gardener’s apron, was for many years a familiar sight at the Chelsea Flower Show, where she was to be seen busily selling furniture fit for a stately home to the owners of small town gardens.

The 11th Duke once observed: “My wife is far more important to Chatsworth than I am.” He added: “She is on the bossy side, of course; but I’ve always liked that in a woman.” She dealt heroically with her husband’s philandering nature and his weakness for alcohol, and the marriage was a happy one.

Despite living in a house overflowing with masterpieces by such artists as Rembrandt, Veronese, Murillo, Poussin and Reynolds, the Duchess always maintained that Beatrix Potter was her favourite artist, and Miss Potter’s enchanted world may indeed be the key to appreciating the genius loci of Chatsworth.

The Duchess with a herd of British Limousin cows on the Chatsworth estate (ANDREW CROWLEY)

The Duchess was an ardent conservationist of vernacular architecture and was president of the Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust. She also chaired the Tarmac Construction Group and the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.

Her devotion to making Chatsworth a viable financial concern was well rewarded in 1981 when a charitable trust, capitalised by the sale of certain treasures, was established to preserve The House for posterity.

In 2001 the Duchess published Counting My Chickens… and other home thoughts, a collection of sharply observed musings on Chatsworth, gardening, poultry, dry stone walling, bottled water, the United States, Ireland, the Today programme, the Turner Prize and other topics. On the modern fashion for hiring business consultants, she wryly observed: “He arrives from London, first class on the train… Most probably he has never been this far north, so the geography and the ways of the locals have to be explained, all taking his valuable time. After a suitable pause of a few weeks (he is very busy being consulted) a beautiful book arrives, telling you what you spent the day telling him.”

After her husband’s death in 2004 she published a poignant tribute in Memories of Andrew Devonshire (2007). Other publications included In Tearing Haste: Letters between Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor (2008); Home to Roost … and Other Peckings (2009), a collection of occasional writings; and Wait for Me!… Memoirs of the Youngest Mitford Sister (2010). She was also a contributor to The Spectator and The Daily Telegraph. Her last book, All in One Basket, which brought together two earlier volumes of occasional writings, was published in 2011.

The Duchess claimed to buy most of her clothes at agricultural shows, adding: “After agricultural shows, Marks & Spencer is the place to go shopping, and then Paris. Nothing in between seems to be much good.”

Her dislikes included magpies; women who want to join men’s clubs; hotel coat-hangers; and drivers who slow down to go over cattle grids. She regretted the passing of brogues, the custom of mourning, telegrams, the 1662 Prayer Book, pinafores for little boys and Elvis Presley (“the greatest entertainer ever to walk on a stage”).

In 2003 she published The Chatsworth Cookery Book, introducing it with the words: “I haven’t cooked since the war.”

Debo Devonshire was appointed DCVO in 1999.

She is survived by her son Stoker, the 12th Duke of Devonshire, and by two daughters.

Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, born March 31 1920, died September 24 2014


Ed Miliband, leader of Britain's opposition Party leader Ed Miliband at Labour’s conference in Manchester. ‘As Ian Martin says: “Labour’s message to the electorate is clear – austerity is the new reality.'” writes Dave Nellist. Photograph: Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters

It was heartening to hear Ed Miliband say in his speech that tackling climate change is a passion of his and that solving it could be a massive job-generating opportunity (Report, 24 September). The inevitable question of how to pay for this can be tackled by writing to Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England. He is on record as saying that if the government requested it, then the next round of QE could be used to buy assets other than government debt. Miliband said that the Green Investment Bank would be used to fund green economic activity and so Labour should allow it to issue bonds that could then be bought by the Bank using “Green QE”. Similarly, local authorities could issue bonds to build new energy-efficient public homes funded by “Housing QE”.

The Bank has already pumped £375bn of QE into the economy, but with little tangible benefit to the majority. Imagine the galvanising effect on the real economy of every city and town if a £50bn programme of infrastructural QE became the next government’s priority. This could make every building in the UK energy-tight and build enough highly insulated new homes to tackle the housing crisis. It would provide a secure career structure for those involved for the next 10 years and beyond, massive numbers of adequately paid apprenticeships and jobs for the self employed, a market for local small businesses, and reduced energy bills for all. Such a nationwide programme would generate tax revenue to help tackle the deficit, but in an economically and socially constructive way. Best of all it would not be categorised as increased public funding, since QE spending has not and would not be counted as government expenditure.
Colin Hines
Convener, Green New Deal Group

• Ian Martin (I can’t remember a more spineless opposition, 24 September) sums up the feeling of millions of working-class people. Millions are desperate to get rid of the current government, yet at the same time depressed because they don’t believe a Labour government would mark a real change. As Ian says: “Labour’s message to the electorate is clear – austerity is the new reality.”

To get rid of the Tories many, like Ian is clearly considering doing, will vote Labour in the general election next year. Others will abstain from the elections in disgust, or even vote for the rightwing stockbrokers of Ukip to express their anger. One clear result from Scotland is proof that it is not “apathy”, but disillusionment with the diet of pro-big-business, pro-austerity parties on offer, that is responsible for falling election turnouts. But trade unionists and socialists cannot continue to accept a choice between parties whose policies are so similar you can barely get a fag-paper between them. That only leaves the road open to Ukip and its ilk. That is why the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC – to which Ian refers) was co-founded by the late Bob Crow to begin to build an electoral voice for working-class people.  In May 2014, TUSC fielded 560 local election candidates in nearly 90 towns and cities, in the widest socialist challenge to Labour for 60 years. In May 2015 – for both the general and the local elections – we are going to up our game, aiming to stand even more widely, to ensure austerity is not unchallenged at the ballot box.
Dave Nellist
Chair, TUSC

• Ian Martin highlights the dramatic change that followed the coalition legislating the five-year parliament. By removing the opportunity to force a general election at any time following a government defeat, for example when the government lost the vote on alterations to the “bedroom tax”, this government has removed the incentive for persuasive, adversarial discussion in the house as the government can rely on the “five-year rule” to override the opposition. There is no longer the tense, adversarial atmosphere that used to exist and so we get the impression that the opposition is “spineless”.
David Hurry
Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex

• Ian Martin’s “spineless opposition” has a good deal more to offer to my constituents in a hard-pressed ward in Newcastle’s West End than he allows. From the scrapping of the bedroom tax to rescuing the NHS, new social and council house building to dealing with the problems of the private rented sector, better training and job creation, and above all fairer funding for local council services slashed by the Tory/Lib Dem government, a Labour government will make a huge difference. The author of The Thick of It may not recognise it; the people who live in the thick of it will if Labour wins next May.
Jeremy Beecham
Labour, House of Lords

• Smoking costs the NHS between £2.7bn and £5.2bn a year, and Mr Miliband wants to add a windfall tax to the £9.5bn annual excise revenue to help fund the NHS. Obesity cost the NHS £16bn in 2007, but I hear no calls from him to tax the supermarkets that sell us the processed food that makes us fat, or calls for taxes (or at least reduced subsidies) on the sugar that goes into them. The link between sugar and obesity is now as clear as the link between tobacco and cancer. The time to act on obesity is now, and taxing those who cause us harm would be a popular and sensible policy.
Richard Cooper
Chichester, West Sussex

• Owen Jones (Memo to Miliband: Britain’s social order is bankrupt, 22 September) rightly points out that, since the start of the recession, the richest 1,000 people in the country have doubled their wealth to £519bn, as much as the annual earnings of two-thirds of the British workforce, but it is even worse than that. We now have more billionaires per capita than any other country and London has more billionaires than any other world city. We have more million-earning bankers than the rest of Europe combined. FTSE 100 chief executives are being paid an average of £4.7m a year, almost £13,000 a day, and get 170 times as much as the average worker. And the richest five families in the country have as much wealth as the poorest 20% of the population.

Yet, since the start of the recession, average incomes have fallen by 10% after inflation is taken into account, the number of adults in poverty has risen to 8.7 million and the number of children in poverty has risen to 4.1 million. A third of households are living below the breadline and a million people are forced to use food banks every year. And, according to the OECD, our poorest fifth of households are among the most economically deprived in western Europe and have levels of deprivation which are more on a par with a number of eastern European countries. These attacks on working people and those unable to work must be resisted, and a mass turnout for the “Britain needs a pay rise” demonstration, which the TUC is organising in London on 18 October, is now more important than ever.
Richard Lynch

• I’m a retired Tory party activist but also a long-time reader of the Guardian, a paper that strives for accuracy and intelligently challenges my prejudices. So I’ve little time for Ed Miliband, but John Crace’s offensive and ill-directed mockery of his alleged pronunciation (Sketch, 24 September) leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth. Miliband speaks an ordinary and clearly pronounced educated English. Crace’s diatribe appears facing a headline “Playground insults from the right”. How apt.
Eugene Byrne

Film still from The Riot Club, loosely based on the Bullingdon boys Film still from The Riot Club, loosely based on the Bullingdon boys. Val Harding writes: ‘We should concentrate on the sexual, physical and emotional abuse perpetrated in private schools.’ Photograph: Nicola Dove

Rather than debating the peripheral issues of elite education such as what you should call a toilet (Too posh to push off, G2, 22 September) we should concentrate on the real issues such as the sexual, physical and emotional abuse perpetrated in private schools, in particular at boarding schools. Recently Alex Renton (Observer, 4 May) highlighted the fact that there are 130 private schools that have been or are now subject to allegations. In the public sector there would be an outcry. In the private sector the truth only comes to light gradually.

Stuart Jeffries is right in saying the posh will always be with us, degrading our lives, unless we abolish private schools. We should try to achieve this sooner rather than later by highlighting what is really degrading and abusive rather than wasting space on how toffs speak.
Val Harding

• It was crass and stupid of Stuart Jeffries to cite Edward St Aubyn’s Melrose novels alongside Made in Chelsea, and to dismiss them as commodities which “reduce us to voyeurs of a pimped-up grotesquerie of toffs behaving badly”. I realise that, like many of your contributors, Jeffries probably does not care about literature, only social justice; so to point out that the novels are wonderful would have little effect. Given the circumstances in which they were written, though, Jeffries’s comment shows the sort of moral fecklessness he likes to find in his class enemies. Might he not want to avoid that?
Benjamin Slingo
St John’s College, Cambridge

• Although I watch neither programme, others have told me that my 11-year-old granddaughter’s definition of posh was spot-on. After a few days at her new secondary school last year, she reported that her new classmates were much posher than those at her prior school. When I asked for an example, her response was: “These girls watch The Great British Bake Off, but in my old school they watched The X Factor.”
Joe Locker

• You write (Toff speak, G2, 22 September) that “hoi polloi” is Greek for “the plebs”. This is incorrect – it is Greek for “the many”.
Jennifer Coates
Emeritus professor of English language and linguistics, University of Roehampton

Woman in doctor's surgery ‘Obstacles to primary care can only exacerbate cancer related inequalities’. Photograph: Burger/Phanie Agency/Rex Features

Late diagnosis may well be due to poor judgment by doctors and late presentation by patients themselves in some cases (Cancer is diagnosed late in almost half of patients, 22 September). However, in all too many parts of our inner cities, the problem is as likely to be getting to see a GP at all.

Our recent survey of GP capacity in Haringey showed shocking results. The borough is 116,000 GP appointments per year short of the NHS England requirement, most of this deficit being in disadvantaged Tottenham, with patients continuing to report extreme difficulty in obtaining an appointment, and GPs under great pressure.

Such obstacles to access to primary care can only exacerbate the inequalities in mortality and morbidity already apparent in the area, many of which are cancer-related.

Prompt access to quality primary care for all must be a first step in tackling these grim statistics on cancer survival rates. And when seeing such headlines, we should always ask which half are most likely to be diagnosed late and why.
Sharon Grant
Chair, Healthwatch Haringey

A woman holds a banner that reads ‘Enough! Now is our turn’ during a protest in 2012 against austerity measures in Portugal. However, ‘in no other European country was there such an overwhelming consensus on austerity,’ writes Pedro Estêvão. Photograph: Patricia De Melo Moreira/AFP/Getty

Taken out of context, João Magueijo’s book is indeed a collection of unpleasant – if not outright offensive – stereotypes about Britain and the British. Resentful comments by Guardian readers are understandable. Yet I think your article (Who said Britons were drunk, dirty and deplorable?, 20 September) misses the point of the book and fails to capture the context of its success in Portugal.

I think Magueijo’s book is not so much a cheap xenophobic picture of the British but rather a satire on ever-present and deeply ingrained self-images of Portugal in Portuguese public discourse. Magueijo himself pointed in the interview to Lord Byron’s disdainful accounts of Portugal in the early years of the 19th century, which are typical of the socio- and ethnocentric travel writing of the time. But I doubt the way in which the Portuguese cultural elites took these images to heart is so typical. The most talented Portuguese writer of the late 19th century, Eça de Queiroz, often referred in his novels to idealised accounts of Britain as either an Oxonian paradise or a futuristic benign utopia, as rhetorical counterpart to a hopelessly decadent Portuguese society. That, say, the mass of the population in British urban centres were mired in squalor at that time was a fact never worth mentioning in his works.

This idealisation of Britain remains a constant trope in Portuguese literature and arts to this day. In fact it is not just Britain that is held at such absurd lofty heights by Portuguese artists. Take the example of João Canijo, an excellent contemporary Portuguese cinema director. In an interview given in 2010, he could be heard deploring the unrepentant “ignorance” of the Portuguese when compared to what happened in France, where, he claimed, even young delinquents were fully knowledgable about the works of Jean Racine.

In time, this discourse seeped into political discourse. Politicians and pundits alike rush to point how the Portuguese should be in awe of the media-darling country of the day – say, Singapore and Ireland, if you are a right-winger campaigning for labour and financial deregulation, Finland if you are a left-winger emphasising the role of education on economic and social development – and how Portugal’s problems would vanish at once if we just had the courage turn the country upside down to copy them.

These types of comparisons are of lesser importance – role-model countries come and go at great pace these days – and not exclusive to Portugal. But they can have far more sinister overtones. And none more so than in the current context of deep economic crisis. Indeed, they paved the way for a very convenient narrative in which recession was not caused by the shockwaves of the bursting of a colossal global financial bubble, but was the result of perennial flaws of the Portuguese national character finally catching up with us. In this framework, the Portuguese were allegedly lazy, risk-averse losers tanning in the sun who were living beyond their means and thus totally dependent on an inefficient welfare state and on the goodwill of honest bankers – and were duly punished by market forces after 2010.

What is more astonishing is how this bordering-on-racist narrative was taken as self-evident and reproduced by the Portuguese media and by the current Portuguese government. This despite every bit of hard data pointing to its falseness. The fact that Portuguese work significantly more hours and for significantly lower wages than the OECD average, and that most of the growth in Portuguese families’ indebtedness in the past 20 years is explained by the acquisition of housing in a deregulated housing market, is overlooked. So too are the tremendous achievements of the Portuguese welfare state in health and, more recently, in education and the fight against poverty, despite having far less resources than most of its European counterparts. Yet I would venture that in no other European country was there such an overwhelming consensus on austerity – and the idealisation of other countries as opposed to the alleged rottenness of Portugal played a key role in legitimising that.

This is why I think Magueijo’s book struck a chord in Portugal. He is simply turning a deep-seated rhetorical trope on its head. What if, for once, instead of the age-old practice of comparing the worst there is in Portugal to the best that can be found abroad, we switched roles? For him, Britain just happened to be the perfect subject for this exercise: a country with which he is familiar and which is revered by Portugal’s political, economic and artistic elites. It is the latter that the joke is on, not on the British.
Pedro Estêvão
Lisbon, Portugal

Agatha Christie ‘In 1982, of 350 plays in UK theatres, only 30 were by women and 25 of those were by Agatha Christie’ (pictured). Photograph: Popperfoto/Getty Images

I read your article (23 August) regarding the gender imbalance in our theatres with a mounting sense of deja vu. In 1982 I was involved in an event called Women Live. Statistics that year showed that, of 350 plays in UK theatres, only 30 were by women and 25 of those were by, you guessed it, Agatha Christie. That year my play Watching Foxes was produced in the studio at the Bristol Old Vic. In 1987 my play Self Portrait was produced in the studio at Theatr Clwyd, and subsequently on the main stage at Derby Playhouse, then later at the Orange Tree Richmond, all directed by the great Annie Castledine. All played to packed houses. Nevertheless Variations, published in Methuen Plays by Women 9 in 1991, has had 10 student productions both in England and abroad, but has never been produced professionally.

My work consistently places women centre stage. My women are proactive: they are not tragic victims, dutiful wives, maids or whores. After 35 years working as a professional playwright, I am still writing. But most of my recent and planned work is now for radio. I am by no means a cynic. Indeed I would consider myself an idealist and an eternal optimist. I wish every success to the Advance Symposium, and passionately hope I may at last see positive change in my lifetime.
Sheila Yeger
Almondsbury, Gloucestershire

Scottish independence referendum The Queen and the Conservatives … a purr-fect match? Photograph: Chris Jackson/PA

The problem with buskers in Bath is not just an abbey problem – amplified music is destroying the ambience of much of the city’s historic centre (Report, 24 September). During a walk earlier in the year we were driven out of the centre by the amplification of what we might well have stopped to listen to, had it not been so loud. Buskers have been around since Roman times, as of course has Bath. In 462BC the Law of the Twelve Tables made it a crime to sing about or make parodies of the government or its officials in public places and the penalty was death. Let’s hope Bath council can sort this matter out in a more civilised way.
Judith Hunt
Freshwater Bay, Isle of Wight

• England 10, Montenegro nil. Aggregate score in qualifiying for the World Cup 52-1 (Scotland face play-off but England finish with 10-0 win, 18 September). If this were the men’s team, this remarkable result would be front-page news in the main paper. But it’s the women, so it’s tucked away in a single column in the middle of the Sport section. So much for the Guardian’s feminist credentials!
Margaret Jacobi

• Ofsted says it does not routinely collect comprehensive data on those flawed inspections and to provide it would be too expensive (Ofsted tight-lipped about ‘flawed’ inspections, 23 September). I wonder if they would accept this kind of excuse from a school?
Ann Burgess

• It has never been made so clear that the followers of Margaret Thatcher cannot distinguish between fact and fiction (In defence of Hilary Mantel and fiction, G2, 23 September).
Fred Cairns

• Some weeks ago I used these pages to advance my thesis that dogs vote Labour, cats vote Conservative (Letters, 4 August).Bafflingly, there were some objections to this. On Tuesday we heard that the Queen purred down the line at Cameron (Report, 24 September). I rest my case.
Jonathan Myerson



Sir, I object to your use of the term “ritual” slaughter when writing about how religious communities dispatch animals for food (report, Sept 23) . There is no “ritual” involved in the act of shechita, the Jewish humane method of slaughtering animals, any more than in the conventional industrialised methods of slaughter.
Henry Grunwald, QC
Chairman of Shechita UK

Sir, Draining blood from an animal without stunning might have been necessary to prevent disease in the past, but modern farming and science highlight how this is unnecessary. I can’t imagine a Creator who would want any animal to suffer.
Justin Richards
Hitchin, Herts

Sir, You are suggesting the deployment of ground troops to drive out the terrorists from the zone of conflict in Iraq and Syria (“Action, At Last”, leading article, Sept 24). However, one must consider the repercussions which are likely to ensue if British Army boots are on Iraqi soil. The root of the problem goes back to the US-UK invasion of Iraq to remove Saddam from power without any structural plan towards postwar stabilisation. This resulted in an inept and weak government unable to bridge the chasm between sectarian factions.

As a direct consequence, we witnessed the emergence of indigenous terrorism in this country. It is counterfactual to argue but the present problem with Isis could have been averted if the US had taken direct action when President Assad’s armed forces were committing genocide of their own people.

Instead of direct military intervention, the West should assist and encourage the Arab nations to take concerted military action against Isis for the sake of their own security.
Sam Banik

London N10

Sir, On April 27, 1916, Gertrude Bell — the great British Arabist still held in affection by many Arabs — summed up the chaotic results of contemporary British Middle Eastern policy thus: “Muddle through! Why yes so we do — wading through blood and tears that need never have been shed.” Very little has changed in 100 years. When the vote is taken in Westminster, I hope and pray that our MPs will not “muddle through” into the lobbies, but will consider the alternative of not making war, not joining in and continuing to seek for reconciliation — which is after all our only enduring objective.
Mark Dunn
Wildham Stoughton, W Sussex

Sir, Is it not droll that Tony Blair, the Middle Eastern peace envoy, having made no positive contribution to anything, now wants British troops on the ground in Iraq again? What a crazy state of affairs. Will he send his children?
Frank Elliott
Johnston, Pembrokeshire

Sir, Rather than protecting British citizens abroad from jihadists, the MoD plans (“Britain may deploy armed drones to Iraq”, Sept 24) will undoubtedly have the opposite effect, as well as increasing the threat of terrorism here in the UK. Kurt Volker, former US permanent representative to Nato, argues that drone strikes “allow our opponents to cast us as a distant, high-tech, amoral purveyor of death”.
Chris Cole
Drone Wars UK, Oxford

Sir, I have some reservations about Israel’s policy towards Gaza. But, given that the so-called Islamic State has not (yet) attacked the UK, our government’s willingness to join in bombing raids in Syria and Iraq does illustrate its two-faced attitude in respect of its criticism of Israel’s defence against rockets from Hamas terrorists.
Ivor Davies
London N12

Sir, Mr Cameron may like to consider that Isis is more of a threat to the UK from its presence within the UK than its presence in Syria and Iraq. However, this reality might not appeal to his hubris.
Brian Edmonds
Farnham, Surrey

Sir, You report (“Real tweet might be vital clue”, Sept 24) that analysts are using background sounds from an Isis video to work out where it might have been filmed. Have we
forgotten the lessons of the Second World War on the importance of secrecy?
Thomas Morris
London N1

Sir, We would be better off attacking those Arab countries that supply Isis with arms. Then we should go after those countries stupidly supplying these Arab countries passing weaponry to Isis, namely Britain and the US. I believe this is known as reductio ad absurdum.
David Lee
Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey

Sir, I write regarding your leader on Anglo/German cultural traditions (“Grand Alliance”, Sept 23). Germany has been a colossus as a purveyor of classical music. As a member of the London Symphony Chorus, I joined the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and Chorus in a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at the Proms. We were placed so as to have a member of the German chorus on each side as we sang the words of brotherhood and hope for the future.

Yes, it is time to repay the compliment to German culture.
Ian Fletcher
London EC2

Sir, The Germans have to be given credit for creating the Beatles’ look, and for giving Kraftwerk to the world. I am, however, struggling to forgive them for 99 Red Balloons.
Neale James Potts
Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffs

Sir, We have lived in our London “mansion” (a modest suburban terraced house) for 35 years and we are a Labour tax target simply because of house price inflation (“Labour will levy £2m mansion tax to fund NHS”, Sept 23). What may drive us out of the family home is cheap Labour politics of envy. Our alternative could involve buying half a dozen small buy-to-lets outside the southeast. So, an expensive, larger but less socially valid house comes on to the market and six houses needed for first-time buyers are taken off it. How can this be good policy?
Andrew Botterill
London NW11

Sir, The alternative to a mansion tax is to increase the number of council tax bands, which would be much less emotive. Where I live, the top band starts with houses of £1.2 million yet owners of genuine mansions valued at up to £10 million pay the same as those in £1.2 million houses. Changing tax bands would be regarded as fairer than both the existing system or an abitrary new mansion tax.
Peter Butlin
Weybridge, Surrey

Sir, As a lower-rate income tax payer and an octogenarian house-owner, I am concerned as to how I shall pay the mansion tax on our house, which we bought 40 years ago for £70,500.
Susan Morgan
London W6

Sir, “Gordon Brown raised national insurance by 1 per cent in 2002” (front page report, Sept 23). He raised it from 10 per cent to 11 per cent. That was a 10 per cent increase and nobody noticed; very clever.
Rodney Preece
East Meon, Hants

Sir, Political short-termism used to be an acceptable expedient but in the hands of people whose only horizon is the next day’s headlines it is plain, destructive stupidity.
Richard Bellman
Sutton Scotney, Hants

Sir, Mansion tax? The more urgent policy is to build more homes.
Stuart Law
CEO, Assetz, Stockport, Cheshire​

Sir, Jan Zajac (letters, Sept 23) reminds us of Bob Dylan’s wit. At
a press conference at London’s South Bank to announce the film Hearts Of Fire (1987), an earnest journalist inquired whether Dylan might be bored by filming on location, Dylan looked down on the journalist and after brief consideration, mumbled: “I don’t know, will you be there?”
John Millar
Perceton, Ayrshire

Sir, I am reminded of the great US singer-songwriter, Don McLean. When questioned about his 1971 hit, “just what does American Pie mean?” McLean replied: “It means I never have to work again.” Fortunately for many of us, he continued to do so.
Graham Tritt
Ware, Herts

Sir, I write regarding your leader on Anglo/German cultural traditions (“Grand Alliance”, Sept 23). Germany has been a colossus as a purveyor of classical music. As a member of the London Symphony Chorus, I joined the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and Chorus in a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at the Proms. We were placed so as to have a member of the German chorus on each side as we sang the words of brotherhood and hope for the future.

Yes, it is time to repay the compliment to German culture.
Ian Fletcher
London EC2

Sir, The Germans have to be given credit for creating the Beatles’ look, and for giving Kraftwerk to the world. I am, however, struggling to forgive them for 99 Red Balloons.
Neale James Potts
Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffs


Photo: Alamy

6:57AM BST 24 Sep 2014


SIR – Figures reported by researchers from University College London show that almost half of children are not ready for school at the age of five. This raises many questions about what is happening during those early years.

A study I carried out in 2005 with the Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology indicated that 48 per cent of children in the sample were not ready for school in terms of physical development and there was a correlation between motor skills and educational performance.

We must improve our understanding and assessment of how the child’s physical development is nurtured within the context of early interaction with the environment and social engagement. There must also be improved communication between the domains of medicine and education.

Sally Goddard Blythe

SIR – As a police sergeant in Croydon, Surrey, I worked closely with many head teachers. One excellent head of a well-run school once explained to me that his school didn’t receive the recognition it deserved through SAT results because its first priority was to bring pupils up to the level of education expected for their age; many had little or no knowledge of literacy or numeracy and most were unable to identify colours.

Most alarming was the lack of social skills and inability to interact harmoniously with fellow pupils or accept direction from teachers. Time was spent addressing these issues before tackling the curriculum.

I do not believe it was coincidence that many of these pupils came to my attention in later years following their involvement in crime and anti-social behaviour.

Clifford Baxter
Wareham, Dorset

The fight against Isil

SIR – It beggars belief that Tony Blair is advising we send troops to Iraq. The Isil problem needs to be resolved by Muslim countries, perhaps with air support and logistical assistance.

Sending troops in would simply open a new can of worms, and we haven’t yet closed the ones Blair himself left open.

Alan Kibblewhite
Blandford Forum, Dorset

SIR – The prospect of yet another bombing campaign shows how out of touch our leaders are. Economic sanctions against Isil will have far more effect, but East and West need to speak with one voice.

David Ross
Tiverton, Devon

They were the Few

SIR – It is perhaps a pity that Miranda Prynne, writing of the Few, failed to mention specifically the role played by the New Zealanders, Poles and Czechoslovaks.

The Battle of Britain’s highest scorer was the Czech Josef Frantisek. He flew in the battle’s top scoring unit, the Polish 303 Squadron. New Zealanders provided the highest number of pilots from Britain’s Dominions.

In numbers of non-British airmen in the battle they were only exceeded by the Poles.

Michael Olizar
London SW15

Footballers’ school days

SIR – Although Lord Grade (Letters, September 19) may be right about the lack of public school boys at Chelsea, Manchester United and Everton, Frank Lampard (ex-Chelsea, now Manchester City) did go to Brentwood School.

The apocryphal tale goes that when told by the headmaster that he had been offered a place at Cambridge, the young Lampard declined, saying he had already been offered a place at West Ham.

Stephen Beaumont
Leiston, Suffolk

The bottom line

SIR – Those who buy “white boys’ shirts” (Letters, September 22) might like to know that once upon a time Marks & Spencer sold “casual bottoms”.

I think they were referring to trousers.

Mel Smith
Tamworth, Staffordshire

GPs’ use of antibiotics

SIR – It is sad to see the popular myth that antibiotics are used as a way of ending a consultation being repeated. Over many years as a local prescribing adviser I never found substantive evidence for this.

It is, however, important to consider an individual doctor’s attitude towards taking risks in diagnosis and treatment. Unfortunately, when a patient presents with the early stages of a respiratory disease, there is no way of predicting from the history and examination alone whether it is likely to become serious.

The NHS needs to prioritise the development of simple tests that could be carried out in a GP surgery and give a swift indication as to whether an infection is likely to require antibiotics. This would solve the problem far more effectively than naming and shaming frequent prescribers.

Dr Robert Walker
Workington, Cumbria

Window into France

SIR – For a taster of the glorious stained glass windows in the Sainte-Chapelle, Paris, you need go no further than South Kensington.

The Medieval and Renaissance galleries of the Victoria & Albert museum have one of the original windows on display there.

Mary Moore
Croydon, Surrey

Reading rekindled

SIR – Clive Pilley (Letters, September 22) is fortunate to be able to read a paperback bought by his father in 1959.

Thanks to my Kindle and its ability to change the font size I too am able to continue reading.

Lesley Scott
Swindon, Wiltshire

Saving your bacon

SIR – Alan Self need not worry about the expiry date of his bacon (Letters, September 22). After opening I press the top of the packet back down to keep out most of the air, and then put the packet in a suitably shaped plastic container.

It keeps for two weeks this way.

Margaret Bentley

SIR – No, Mr Self, don’t give up eating bacon: give up reading bacon packets.

G P Diss
Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire

Autumn days when the grass is jewelled: a dog enjoys a misty autumn walk in Exeter Photo: Benjamin Rutherford / Alamy

6:58AM BST 24 Sep 2014


SIR – On Sunday the Met Office told us to get out the spare blankets and prepare to wrap up warm as temperatures would be dropping below freezing in the coming week.

The next day headlines reported that the warm weather was to last beyond mid-October, with no sign of a cool-down.

What am I supposed to believe – or should I just look out of the window and check for frost or sun?

Jean Birch
Rayleigh, Essex

SIR – Has anyone noticed the rampant spread of bracken along hedgerows, killing off blackberry, hawthorn and sloe bushes – valuable autumn food for birds?

Beth Wilson
Wirksworth, Derbyshire

SIR – Soon, with winter coming, I won’t have music imposed on me from neighbours’ gardens. Peace at last.

Carol Thompson
Shepperton, Middlesex

Devolution: does England need its own parliament? Photo: ALAMY

7:00AM BST 24 Sep 2014


SIR – The precipitate drive towards regional devolution will revive the opportunities for extreme political groups to hijack the democratic process to serve their own ends. Derek Hatton’s Liverpool in the Eighties exemplified such dangers.

What is more, once regions are given greater power over finance we will see another layer of expensive bureaucracy established to burden the taxpayer. Does anyone imagine that central government will reduce its expenditure to compensate?

Bob Dennell
Banstead, Surrey

SIR – Next year sees the 750th anniversary of the de Montfort Parliament, the first gathering in England that can be truly called a parliament.

That year would therefore seem to be an auspicious one for the inauguration of a “New English Parliament”.

As Simon de Montfort is linked with Leicester, a site in the Midlands would seem appropriate for this parliament. It might also provide an added argument in favour of HS2.

Richard R Long

SIR – The Prime Minister’s appointment of William Hague to mastermind English devolution is just about the last straw for many Conservatives who are fed up with David Cameron’s inability to deliver on his constitutional obligations.

Mr Hague made a hash of the Foreign Office, despite being highly intelligent and a superb orator. Anyone who has studied Mr Hague’s political career knows that no progress on constitutional reform will be made under his supervision.

Timothy Stroud
Salisbury, Wiltshire

SIR – Over the past 35 years, Scots have been given three referendums to approve changes to the British constitution.

Yet it seems that the English are to be told what changes will be made to address the West Lothian Question with no referendum at all.

John L D Booth
Letchworth, Hertfordshire

SIR – There would be little need for more devolution of powers, regional governments and so on if our MPs spent more time paying attention to their constituents and less time playing politics in their Westminster retreat.

Simon Aston
Chesham, Buckinghamshire

SIR – If the political parties are serious about constitutional reform, they need to prioritise.

An argument put forward against MPs being excluded from some votes in the Commons was that the division lobbies could not cope. First priority would therefore be to build a modern chamber with electronic voting. MPs’ voting buttons could be disabled when they were not allowed to vote on (say) a Scottish or Welsh matter.

The existing Houses of Parliament could then be saved from subsidence and given over to tourism and offices for MPs.

Simon Meares
Forest Row, East Sussex

SIR – As your fashion correspondent points out (September 20), Vivienne Westwood has had a great deal of success with her fashion line “Anglomania”.

Since she has now declared that she hates the English, can we look forward to the imminent launch of her new line “Anglophobia”?

Helen George
Eastbourne, East Sussex

SIR – Having won more medals than most countries at the 2012 Olympic Games, and now restored to its rightful place as county cricket champions, for one region of the UK, devolution’s time has surely come.

Home rule for Yorkshire!

Mike Davison
Holywell, Huntingdonshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – Let me see if I understand this correctly.

Fine Gael’s Deirdre Clune wins a seat in the European Parliament and according to what is considered normal in the la- la land of Irish politics, her seat “must” be filled by someone from Fine Gael, and for whatever reason Fine Gael has decided that person will be John McNulty. The vacancy he is filling is on the cultural panel, and to qualify Mr McNulty must be a part of the cultural panel quangohood so he can be “elected” by his peers, and to allow him to join the quangohood it just so happens by a happy stroke of luck there’s a vacancy on the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art (Imma).

What are the chances?

Then Minister for the Arts Heather Humphreys has the brass neck to say that none of it had anything to do with her.

The new Minister immediately reverts to the typical blanket defence of her department (so much for change) and justifies her actions by claiming she had no involvement in picking the Fine Gael candidate for the Seanad, which may be true. But she is the Minister who signed off on the appointment of a Fine Gael Seanad candidate to a vacancy at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, which in turns allows that Fine Gael candidate to be “elected” to the Seanad.

It is beyond contemptible to try to argue that it was a coincidence that the department chose to offer the appointment to Mr McNulty, who didn’t even apply for it, and that there was no interference from Fine Gael in the appointment process.

If there was ever any doubt about whether Fine Gael is the new Fianna Fáil, Ms Humphreys has removed all doubt. – Yours, etc,


Canary Wharf,


Sir, – A selectively elected and somewhat personally appointed body, the Seanad, objects to the selective appointment of an individual to the board of Imma. Now that’s “art”. – Yours, etc,


Monalea Park,


Dublin 24.

Sir, – You report (“Minister looks at religion rule in schools”, September 24th) that a Government advisory group recommended in 2012 that rule 68 regarding religious teaching in national schools should be deleted “as soon as possible”. I read that Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan, some two years later, has asked her officials “to consider how best to progress the particular recommendation relating to rule 68 in the context of the ongoing implementation of the forum report recommendations” – a dead cert for a “Yes Minister” gong, I’d wager! Could Ms O’Sullivan or Ruairí Quinn, her predecessor, not find that elusive “delete” key? – Yours, etc,


Front Street East,

Toronto, Ontario.

Sir, – Regarding the role of religion in Irish schools, I am delighted to see that the Minister for Education is considering amending the archaic rule 68, which grants religion a primary role in Irish education. Even better would be to remove the rule entirely. In a pluralistic, democratic society, the law should protect all citizens from the “tyranny of the majority”. There is no justification for any one religion to dominate the public school system and permeate the entire curriculum, especially when so few options are available to parents of different religions or no religion.

If parents want their child to receive instruction in their particular religion, this can be carried out at home or in Sunday schools or other forums outside of the public education system, as in other countries. This simple solution does not discriminate against anyone or infringe on anyone’s rights to religious belief – on the contrary, it offers protection to all religions, and to non-believers, by not promoting any one. Public schools should be places of education, not indoctrination. – Yours, etc,


Elner Court,

Portmarnock, Co Dublin.

Sir, – Let us invent the game of Centenary Monopoly. Go straight to 2017, don’t pass GPO, and don’t collect misty-eyed accounts of exalted rebellion. John Bruton can roll the first dice. – Yours, etc,


Mount Argus Court,

Harold’s Cross,

Dublin 6W.

Sir, – Tim O’Halloran (September 24th) refers twice to “Sinn Féin’s defeat of conscription” and describes it as “perhaps that party’s greatest gift to the people of Ireland”. Does Mr O’Halloran have any evidence for his contention that it was Sinn Féin alone that prevented the introduction of conscription? He ignores the fact that the Irish Party and Mr Redmond opposed conscription in Ireland throughout the war and were instrumental in defeating each attempt to introduce it through legislation at Westminster.

In November 1915, when it first arose as a serious prospect, John Redmond wrote to Herbert Asquith, the British prime minister, to say that “the enforcement of conscription in Ireland is an impossibility . . . [and] if a Conscription Bill be introduced, the Irish Party will be forced to oppose it as vigorously as possible at every stage”.

John Dillon, his deputy leader, on the floor of the House of Commons went so far as to describe compulsory military service as “Prussianism” and the selling out of the very principles of democratic freedom which Britain was fighting the war to protect. Through their parliamentary efforts in December of that year they secured a personal pledge from Asquith that conscription would not be extended to Ireland.

Throughout 1916 Edward Carson, an ardent supporter of Irish conscription, gained increasing influence over a divided British cabinet, threatening to put the issue back on the agenda. This prompted further manoeuvring by Redmond, culminating in a motion of censure against the government which he proposed in October. His Commons speech on the motion included a sustained and detailed attack on the conduct of the War Office and was credited with once again forestalling any attempt to extend conscription. And again in May 1917, the new prime minster David Lloyd George baulked at attempting to force conscription on Ireland because he feared defeat in the Commons at the hands of a combination of the Irish Party, the Conservatives, Labour, and many in his own Liberal party.

As the latter incident shows, Redmond’s parliamentary successes on this issue were made possible by the Irish Party’s assiduous courting of Liberal and Labour support throughout England over the previous decade in the name of home rule, which gave them leverage over the government which extended far beyond their own ranks.

So I suppose the question is, who is more likely to have prevented the introduction of conscription in Ireland? Was it the Irish Party, which had 73 MPs at Westminster, the ear of the British government, and a network of supportive English and Scottish MPs from other parties when the issue arose in the House of Commons? Or was it Sinn Féin, which throughout this period was a small isolationist party with no elected representation?

While Sinn Féin was very successful at fomenting public opposition to conscription at home in Ireland, it is fanciful in the extreme to suggest that this had anything but a residual impact on those in London who were attempting to introduce the policy.

As if denying all of this wasn’t enough, Mr O’Halloran seems to go further by implying that Redmond’s support for voluntary recruitment meant that, by extension, he actually supported conscription. In fact, as all of the available evidence shows, he saw continued voluntary recruitment in Ireland as a vital means of staving off conscription, since the dramatic fall-off in volunteers from late 1915 onwards was being used by Carson and others as a justification for its introduction. – Yours, etc,




Dublin 3.

Sir, – I continue to be amazed at the President’s forays into policy matters. He recently made reference to debates that took place in Dáil Éireann on the subject of Nama and housing while he was a TD. Now he is taking sideswipes at “those who advocate acquiescent fortitude” as we take the “road to recovery” and goes on to to meddle in pre-budget submissions (“Irish society should draw up ‘new ethical principles’, says President”, September 22nd).

I am inclined to think that he is making a veiled (or maybe not so veiled) reference to the Government of the day and this is surely beyond his remit. Our media outlets appear reluctant to make any criticism of him, and we should surely know what happens when we put any person or institution on a pedestal. – Yours, etc,




Co Tipperary.

Sir, – The attention given by The Irish Times to the shocking state of provision of speech and language therapy in recent days is welcome (“Child speech therapy services ‘a lottery’, says report”, September 22nd).

However, the problem is, unfortunately, the tip of a very large iceberg. My GP recently told me that there is no psychologist in our area to assess children with learning or behavioural difficulties. Not a long waiting list, not pressure on resources, simply no-one in post. Many parents will make huge sacrifices to pay for the assessment and treatment their children need.

But many other parents will not be able to access the large amounts of money that such assessments cost – mostly low-income families, thus putting at-risk children potentially at further lifetime risk.

There is a clear correlation between undiagnosed (and therefore untreated) learning disabilities and poor mental health, with all that implies for individuals, families and society at large.

It really is time that we took action and pledged to ensure that all children get the supports that they need. – Yours, etc,


Caragh Road,

Dublin 7.

A chara, – Further to Eamonn McCann’s column “Sinn Féin version of Troubles should not go unchallenged” (Opinion & Analysis, September 18th), in my interview with the BBC I said that the IRA, like many before them in Ireland and internationally who sought to bring about political change, broke the law. That is self-evident.

Mr McCann bases his entire column on his false claim that I had in fact stated the opposite, ie that the IRA had been “law abiding”.

In the BBC interview I also pointed out that what is important now is that we are living in different times, not least because of the political changes that republicans were central to bringing about. These include a new policing and justice dispensation in the North.

Finally, I stand over my remarks that republicans across this island, including the hundreds of thousands of citizens who vote for Sinn Féin are, and have always been, law-abiding people. – Is mise,


Teach Laighean,

Baile Átha Cliath 2.

Sir, – The letter by representatives of the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland and the Licensed Vintners’ Association (September 24th) asks us to “take, for example, last St Patrick’s Day, when a slab of beer – 24 cans – was available for €24” in a supermarket.

Just as we’ve started to discuss the national addiction in a mature way, vested interest groups (whose usual mantra is “please consume alcohol responsibly” or some variation on same) ask readers to take the example of a slab of 24 cans of beer on St Patrick’s Day for the purposes of their argument.

The popularity of boozing in the local pub seems to be on the decline, but there are plenty of opportunities for Irish pubs that move with the times. If pubs cannot compete with the supermarkets on the price of alcohol, then maybe it’s time they considered doing what other businesses do and diversify.

Irish pubs have an abundance of wonderful ingredients and food products on their doorsteps. Decent pub lunches or dinners are not products a supermarket offers.

Many pubs that offer these are thriving, while providing jobs, making Ireland more attractive to tourists and changing our focus when it comes to socialising for the better in the process.

Let’s not take St Patrick’s Day and a slab of 24 cans of beer as an example. – Yours, etc,


Stocking Avenue,

Rathfarnham, Dublin 16.

Sir, – The Rev Patrick G Burke (September 23rd), commenting on Donald Clarke’s article (September 20th) on the place of science in general culture, asked whether The Irish Times had made “a sly nod towards the notion that for some science has taken the place of faith?” His doubt was prompted by the Clarke article being published under the heading “Religion and Belief”.

Science has been taking the place of faith for many people for thousands of years from Cicero to Galileo, Kant, Darwin and Einstein. Science is now for many people the best source of reliable knowledge about the natural world. This knowledge about our beautiful world and cosmos, however puzzling and incomplete, provides them with a more secure basis for understanding life in this world, the only life we know, than the “myths and dogmas of traditional religions”. Science, especially after Darwin, has been one of the main sources of confidence and inspiration for humanists, who believe that we have derived good ethical principles “guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience” without any reliance on supernatural advice.

About 100,000 people will attend weddings, funerals and naming ceremonies led by humanist celebrants in 2014. A humanist participated in the inauguration ceremony of President Michael D Higgins, at his invitation. In a few years more weddings will be celebrated outside than inside a church, synagogue or mosque. More than a quarter of a million people reported that they were agnostic, atheist or had no religion in the 2011 census, a fourfold increase on 1991.

Rev Burke and some of your readers might like to find out more about humanism by attending the 21st anniversary conference of the Humanist Association of Ireland in Galway from October 11th to 12th. – Yours, etc,


Honorary President,

Humanist Association

of Ireland,

Grove Lawn,

Blackrock, Co Dublin.

Sir, – Further to Padraig S Doyle’s letter (September 24th), while Vincent de Paul himself may not have handled the logistics of the UCD conference that President Michael D Higgins used to launch a new phase in his ethics initiative aimed at civic society, I would be loath to scoff at the notion that the saint’s spirit of compassion might not have contributed to the event.

The President’s address emphasised the legacy of the man in the quiet work of the St Vincent de Paul Society, of which Mr Higgins said, “Day after day, you seek out the forgotten; you listen to the voices of the voiceless; you support those who have to cope with unemployment, indebtedness, a relationship breakdown, a disability, or loneliness, and sometimes several of these plights at once”.

Whatever about our deserved scepticism about institutional religion and even the notion of an afterlife, this is one “spirit” that we should all want to keep alive. – Yours, etc,


Moyclare Close,

Baldoyle, Dublin 13.

Sir, – I hope this is just one of many letters you receive congratulating Ciara Judge, Emer Hickey and Sophie Healy-Thow on their outstanding research and its recent recognition (“Irish students win global science competition”, September 23rd). They have offered a magnificent example of humanitarian-inspired research at its best and one that many researchers, in a variety of fields, can aspire to follow. – Yours, etc,


Copeland Avenue,


Dublin 3.

Sir, – I note with astonishment that An Taisce’s policy director (September 23rd) seems unaware of the difference between the fats found in a pizza and the healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fats found in oily fish such as farmed salmon. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland clearly recommends that people eat at least one portion of such fish per week. – Yours, etc,


Director of Aquaculture


Bord Iascaigh Mhara,

Crofton Road,

Dún Laoghaire,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – I recently paid €6.85 for a pint of Carlsberg in Temple Bar on a Monday evening at 7pm. Now that’s a warm welcome to Ireland. – Yours, etc,


Foxrock Wood,

Dublin 18.

Irish Independent:

I have to say that Donegal’s minor and senior football teams deserve the utmost respect for the performance in Pairc an Crocaigh on Sunday last.

Sometimes things do not go according to plan and it’s not anyone’s fault, it doesn’t matter how much time is spent on the drawing board, and for us, Sunday was one of those unfortunate days when the target seemed to be a little further away than normal. Playing Kerry was never going to be a walk in the park, and fair dues to them, they’ve collected the title 37 times since 1903.

To get to Croke Park in the first place is an achievement not to be sniffed at. For anyone who complains about how our players performed or underperformed, one has to remember that there are 30 other counties that would have loved to have had the opportunity to play in an All Ireland final, some will in the future while others may only ever get to dream about it.

Thanks to all the players for taking us on a great journey – the flags and posters lifted everyone’s spirits for months.

Go raibh mile maith ag na lads alig ar an dha foireann.

James Woods, Gort an Choirce, Dun na nGall

Media played its part in the crash

In her letter Mary Sullivan (Irish Independent, September 24)highlights the importance of media in a democracy. What she says reminds us all that media is more than just another vested interest. The power of media in opinion forming and holding the great and the good to account cannot be overstated.

She refers to the Watergate case in the US, the 40th anniversary of which happened recently, which caused a president to resign. She also points out that here in Ireland the media exposed wrongdoings by church and State and is “an important watchdog in protecting our democracy”.

What Ms Sullivan does not mention, however, is that media, like all human institutions, has its own failings. One of the reasons this country became bankrupt is that the members of governments, bank boards, etc were not sufficiently held to account by the Irish media during the boom.

At the moment, far too much of media coverage of current affairs is little more than gossip and personalised abuse, missing the main issues. As a result, it is repeating the mistakes of the boom period, when the single biggest calamity to hit this country – the bankrupting of the State – came on with little or no media warning.

A Leavy, Sutton, Dublin 13


Welcome to quangohood

Let me see if I understand this correctly?

Fine Gael’s Deirdre Clune wins a seat in the European Parliament and according to what is considered normal in the la la land of Irish politics, her Seanad seat ‘must’ be filled by someone from Fine Gael, and for whatever reason Fine Gael has decided that person will be Mr John McNulty.

The vacancy he is filling is on the Cultural Panel, and to qualify Mr McNulty must be a part of the Cultural Panel so he can be ‘elected’ by his peers. And, to allow him to join the quangohood, it just so happens by a happy stroke of luck there’s a vacancy on the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA).

What are the chances? The new Arts Minister, Heather Humphreys, immediately used the typical blanket defence of her department (so much for change) and justified her actions by claiming she had no involvement in picking the Fine Gael candidate for the Seanad, which may be true. But she is the minister who signed off on the appointment of a Fine Gael Seanad candidate to a vacancy at the IMMA, that in turn assists that Fine Gael candidate’s ‘election’ to the Seanad.

Someone in Fine Gael put Mr McNulty’s name forward for the IMMA appointment. It is a tall order to try and argue that it was a coincidence that the department chose to offer the appointment to Mr McNulty, who didn’t even apply for it, and that there was no interference from Fine Gael in the appointment process. If there was ever any doubt about whether Fine Gael is the new Fianna Fail, Ms Humphreys has removed all doubt.

Desmond FitzGerald, Commercial Road, London E14, UK

Of course we sell newspapers

When my late uncle opened an early version of a supermarket on a new housing estate in Drogheda in the mid-1950s, he lost out to the shop next door in the winning of the sole licence to sell newspapers in that catchment area.

Arising from this serious competitive disadvantage, I, as a lad, had the daily task of flying down on my bike to the different newsagents (Schwer’s, Madame Le Worthy’s, Bateson’s, et al) in the centre of the town and buying up evening papers in ones, twos or sometimes threes to minimise suspicious looks. Then, with my booty tied firmly to my bike’s carrier, I hightailed it back to my uncle’s and stuffed each copy into the display board at the entrance to his premises.

Of course Mr Grogan sold newspapers!

Oliver McGrane, Rathfarnham, Dublin 16

Dinner at 11am

David McWilliams rightly recognises the substantial contribution agriculture makes to the Irish economy (Irish Independent September 24). However his implied reference to farmers being “people who have their dinner in the middle of the day” is clearly from the mouth of a white-collar man.

With all respect Mr McWilliams, it may be the middle of your day. Indeed, I know many a farmer who would be aghast if dinner were any later than 11am, given the productivity achieved before many others turn on their computers.

Happy ploughing!

Deirdre Lusby, Galway


Flanagan’s double standards

On September 1, 2014, Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said “the invasion of Ukraine is against international law and must stop” (RTE News). He made no reference to the role of NATO as one of the root causes of the Ukraine conflict.

On September 22, the United States and its allies launched air strikes in Syria using warplanes, armed drones and Tomahawk cruise missiles.

On September 23, Mr Flanagan stated on RTE News regarding the bombing in Syria that, “people will not be surprised. With regard to the air attacks, targets need to be particularly precise, and of course innocent civilians need to be spared.”

In contrast with his statement on Ukraine, the minister failed to mention that these air strikes contravene international law, because they do not have UN Security Council approval. His statement that “the air attacks targets need to be particularly precise” suggests that the Irish Government approves of such air strikes as long as they are “particularly precise”, regardless of breaches of international laws.

Edward Horgan, Casteltroy, Limerick

Repeating past mistakes

It seems that governments do not learn from history, and often repeat mistakes. This Friday, David Cameron is planning on recalling the UK parliament, and pushing for a vote to authorise Britain‘s military involvement in Syria and Iraq. In doing so, it will join the US who are already at it.

Many of those militants in the so-called Islamic State were trained by UK armed forces last year, to overthrow the Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. Much of the weaponry in this now destabilised region was supplied by British and American companies. And if you go back a bit further, those two countries’ forces killed around a million Iraqis following the 2003 illegal invasion.

Name and address with editor

Irish Independent


September 24, 2014

24 September 2014 Cleaning

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day. Co op, and post office Cleaned the car for Mercedes tomorrow

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight up rabbit for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.


John Moat – obituary

John Moat was a Devon-based poet who, with John Fairfax, established the Arvon Foundation nearly 50 years ago

John Moat, poet, novelist, painter and co-founder of the Arvon Foundation pictured at Endsleigh

John Moat, poet, novelist, painter and co-founder of the Arvon Foundation pictured at Endsleigh

5:29PM BST 23 Sep 2014


John Moat, who has died aged 78, was a poet, novelist and painter who also taught and inspired countless other writers through the Arvon Foundation, which he founded nearly 50 years ago with his friend John Fairfax.

The two men – Fairfax was also a poet – thought up Arvon over a few beers in a Devon pub. The principle was that people of all ages would be helped to liberate their imaginations and learn to write by sharing the company of professional writers.

Moat and Fairfax led the first Arvon residential course at Beaford arts centre in central Devon in 1968. Sixteen children, who had hardly encountered poetry in their schools, were put through an experience that was somewhere between that of an artistic boot camp and a retreat in a Trappist monastery. They were sustained by John Moat’s concoction of scrag-end of lamb and cider that he called “Devonshire Poet’s Stew”. As Moat put it: “This was in case they should be served any fancy ideas about life as a poet.”

The Arvon Foundation has thrived for almost half a century. In that time, several thousand budding writers have attended Arvon courses at four rural centres, tutored by more than 1,500 practising poets, playwrights and authors. Moat’s wife Antoinette provided the first residential centre, Totleigh Barton, a pre-Domesday thatched farmhouse that seemed to have emerged by the force of nature out of the red soil of central Devon’s hills. Moat was heard asking: “The poets, where are you going to put the poets?” Antoinette replied: “The pigsties is the best place for them. It should be quiet.” “What about the visiting writers?” “There’s only one place for them – the goose house.”

John Moat and his wife Antoinette at Totleigh Barton

Roger John Moat was born in India on September 11 1936. His father, a soldier, was killed in Malaya in 1942 when Moat was five — by coincidence, the age at which Antoinette also lost her father to the war. John’s education, which he would later describe as “undistinguished”, was at Radley and Exeter College, Oxford. During the gap year between the two, he underwent his formative learning experience. Uncertain whether to be a painter or a writer, he went to study with the artist Edmond Kapp in France. He came to Kapp as a prospective painter, and emerged, with Kapp’s endorsement, as a writer.

Moat produced both poetry and novels, and in all his writing there is a powerful sense of place, that place being almost exclusively the valley where he and Antoinette lived for the half-century of their lives together at Welcombe, a remote corner of north Devon, near the Cornish border on the wild Atlantic “wreckers” coast.

Their house, Crenham Mill, sits between converging streams, sheltered in oak woods, enfolded by hills and within muffled earshot of the breakers on the rocky shore. The Moats kept bees, and when the bee-smoking apparatus set fire to the house, destroying half of it, John and Antoinette contemplated the ashes of their house with characteristic equanimity. Moat cited the example of an American Indian tribe who destroy the contents of their homes each year, and the homes themselves every seven years.

Moat’s six novels have an underlying mythological spirit but concern believable people and places. Ted Hughes remarked: “One’s eye never lifts from what seems to be an actuality: very present and very urgent. Surely that’s what good writing is.”

The title of Moat’s first novel, Heorot (1968), refers to a rickety old house, reminiscent of Crenham Mill. Bartonwood (1978), a children’s book, is set on a wild and stormy wreckers’ coast, redolent of the Welcombe valley. The final novel, Blanche, published shortly before his death, features the scarcely disguised Devon estate of Endsleigh; Blanche herself is a will-o’-the-wisp figure who might have escaped from a version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In all his writing, Moat’s vivid description of landscape is in the foreground and an essential part of the action.

His 11 published books of poetry reveal a romantic sensibility, as in “Welcombe Overtures” (1987): “At sundown, after the last man has gone / From the shore, the sea moves in without a thought / And smooths the beach. / And now the builder has gone / And the patient sea is on the move again. / It smooths the pebbles into place, and the thought / Falls into place. And I, the last thought standing alone, / Am drawn to the peace that will follow when I too have gone.”

John Moat’s painting ‘Red Amaryllis’

Moat’s work was enlightened by his practice of daily meditation, his wide reading of both Eastern and Western sacred writing and Jungian philosophy. His interest in mysticism and the occult is seen in the collection Firewater and the Miraculous Mandarin, in which the poet is characterised as an alchemist. He also wrote a humorous column, “Didymus”, in Resurgence magazine.

Moat regarded painting as more of a hobby; he was relaxed in technique and liberal with materials. Among his best-loved works are paintings of flowers in his house and garden, such as amaryllis, lilies and primulas. His store of antique handmade papers, bequeathed by Edmond Kapp, lasted his lifetime. On a piece of 350-year-old Tibetan paper, which could be crumpled up and would return to shape, he slapped on layers of watercolour, wax and assorted varnishes with margins of gold leaf burnished onto gobs of dried Araldite.

He lived simply at Crenham Mill, writing in a hut in the woods. He and Antoinette, who had a wide circle of friends, channelled their resources into causes in which they believed, sometimes leaving themselves short in the process. As well as Arvon, they created the Yarner Trust – to promote self-sufficiency in farming – and Tandem, to encourage creativity in teachers. Recordings of Moat’s well-modulated voice can be heard on the poetry archive website.

John Moat is survived by Antoinette and by their son and daughter.

John Moat, born September 11 1936, died September 16 2014


David Cameron at the 2014 climate summit at the United Nations headquarters in New York. Photograph: Xinhua News Agency/REX

The New Climate Economy report from Nicholas Stern et al at the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate (Cutting emissions can boost growth, say economists, 16 September) says “Good economic actions can take us most of the way to a 2C path”.

This is from the economist who had the grace to admit he got it so wrong before. However, the emissions context in which this new claim is made is a little heroic. It is based on climate modelling in the IPCC fifth assessment report, which, as Nicholas Stern himself observed from the IMF last May, omitted significant feedback effects.

We seem now to be entering an era of carefully scripted half-truths, where the glass half full is a quite different glass from the one that is half empty.

The half-truths that nudge this “New Climate Economy” still do not observe the limits that make it a wholly owned subsidiary of the global environment.

Sadly, one is inclined to take these half-truths with the salt in the seawater that’s coming our way.
Aubrey Meyer (@aubreygci)
Global Commons Institute

• Angela Gurría and Nicholas Stern remind us that “The prize [of building a strong global economy that can avoid dangerous global warming] is huge but time is running out” (Commentary, 16 September) but make no mention of the potential for pan-European energy cooperation and renewable energy sharing. This would certainly seem to make sense: we have plenty of wind, wave and tide in the north and there is plenty of sun in the south. The proposed European super-grid, including inputs from north African concentrated solar power (CSP) and Icelandic geothermal energy, should surely be pursued with the utmost sense of urgency.

I only hope the fact that the UK is so lamentably far behind most other European countries in the development of renewable energy (Sweden produces 49% of its energy requirements from renewables; the UK, which is third to bottom in the table, produces barely 10% and seems unlikely to achieve its target of 20% by 2020) will not prove to be an impediment.
Dr Peter Wemyss-Gorman
Lindfield, West Sussex

• We call on the prime minister, deputy prime minister and opposition leaders to seize on the opportunity for British onshore wind. British voters are clear about what they want: cheap and secure energy. As parties come together at annual conferences they must put country before party, ensure energy is central to every manifesto and seize the opportunity to get policy back on track.

We call on all politicians to listen, to step forward and to act on what voters are telling them. We must harness the full potential of our abundant, clean and home-grown resources and reduce our exposure to global risks, price peaks and supply shocks.

Supported by 70% of voters (according to official government figures), more than nuclear or fracking, British onshore wind greatly reduces our exposure to global price fluctuations and foreign crises – unlike fossil fuels – and the potential for faults that have led to the current shutdown of a quarter of Britain’s nuclear capacity.

The costs to consumers of British onshore wind are falling. Already – and set to remain – the cheapest large-scale renewable, it is also cheaper than new nuclear and new coal plants. And yet the industry does not have the certainty it needs. EY last week concluded that the attractiveness of the UK market for investment in renewable energy has reached a five-year low.

Politicians of all parties must listen to the people and pledge loud and clear that British onshore wind has a role to play beyond 2020 in securing Britain’s energy supply. Its contribution to our economic competitiveness must not be artificially constrained by discriminatory policy.
Richard Mardon CEO, Airvolution, Richard Dunkley Group finance director, The Banks Group, Gareth Swales Director, Fred. Olsen Renewables, Juliet Davenport CEO, Good Energy, Eric Machiels CEO, Infinis, Esbjorn Wilmar CEO, Infinergy, Andrew Whalley CEO, REG, Gordon MacDougall Managing director, RES Western Europe (all signatories’ companies are members of British Wind)

• The UN’s plans for full-scale carbon emission negotiations in 2015 (Report, 23 September) are doomed to failure, for the following simple reason. We need to regulate carbon dioxide production, and it would be sensible, and a lot easier, to regulate the amount of coal and petroleum dug out of the ground. Therefore regulating production is a glaringly obvious way to control carbon dioxide emissions.

Obviously the regulation would need to be international, so the UN is a good starting point, but it is missing a trick by not putting the coal and oil company representatives in the hot seat – in fact, not even inviting them.

Of course reduction in availabilty of oil and coal would cause market chaos; on the other hand the UN’s and Obama’s financial schemes and let-outs will also cause market chaos, but without any guaranteed reduction in carbon dioxide. In fact, if nobody approaches the coal and oil companies it is obvious that, with or without the UN, we will have a guaranteed increase in carbon dioxide.
Dr Chris Harrison
Teddington, Middlesex

• “Fuel poverty” is a serious issue for millions in the UK (A winter’s grail, The big energy debate, 11 September). Yet that phrase obscures the breadth of the problem and implicitly pits it against renewable energy. It is primarily an issue of energy efficiency, insulation and austerity, but “fuel poverty” just implies that gas prices are too high – the phrase makes it nearly impossible to talk about sustainable energy in its context, because wind, waves and solar aren’t fuel, even though they can already deliver three times the amount of energy per unit cost of investment. Let’s help those in need by changing the phrase. “Warmth poverty” will do – keeping the focus on the need rather than the implied solution.
Julian Skidmore

“Texas proposes rewriting school text books to deny manmade climate change” runs the indignant headline on your online report. Just as shocking would have been “Texas rewrites text books to confirm climate change”. The job of education should be to induct young people into controversial issues and encourage them to make their own judgment on the basis of evidence. Why do we suddenly bend the knee to science the way the Guardian suggests? Whether you are a global warmer or sceptic, you should look at the evidence for and against, much of which is perfectly readable. It is far from true that 97% of scientists agree on manmade (anthropogenic) warming (whatever “scientist” means) and there are plenty of authoritative climate “sceptic” texts – not least of which is PJ Michael’s Shattered Consensus, which includes authors of IPCC report chapters themselves questioning the narrative. Respectable climate scientists (David Demeritt, Mike Hume, Anthony Watts and others) add useful counterfactual material – not to mention the shibboleths of the climate warmers, Mountford, Lomborg, McIntyre & McKitrick and Laframboise, all of whom are disciplined, evidence-based and respected writers. I have formed my own view, and it is not based on taking the word of scientists of whatever persuasion. I have spent a great deal of time reading the evidence. My conclusion? There is a justified, democratic debate to be had based on mutual respect and tolerance for dissent and supporting people to make up their own minds. Hang on – isn’t that the Guardian’s mission?
Professor Saville Kushner (@SavilleNZ)
University of Auckland, New Zealand

Photo of BAY CITY ROLLERS The Bay City Rollers: 1970s fashion trailblazers. Photograph: David Redfern/Redferns

In the 17th century, the church courts dealt with a range of personal behaviour, including fornication and adultery, and I think it was for that reason, rather than instances of fornication actually in church (Obituary, Chris Brooks, 23 September), that they were known as “bawdy courts”. Christopher Hill’s Society and Puritanism in Pre-Revolutionary England has a chapter on the subject.
Jeff Lewis

So, in reply to reader Rob’s complaint about a paucity of men’s fashion coverage, Hadley Freeman says men are essentially tediously conservative and tells Rob to be a trailblazer and wear fun menswear (G2, 23 September). Turn two pages and there’s a picture of … the Bay City Rollers.
Colin Barr
Ulverston, Cumbria

Your article (Report recommends ‘mass academisation’, 23 September) would have more sense if we were told that the report’s authors, Policy Exchange, are David Cameron’s favourite thinktank, and contains a plethora of right wing commentators amongst its board of trustees. It’s not that I object to Policy Exchange having a view on any topic they wish, but wealthy rightwing thinktanks have an agenda, which should also be reported.
John Buckley

“If only women MPs should be allowed to vote on subjects affecting women’s rights, and so on” (Letters, 22 September), surely the same applies to MPs whose children attend state schools and who use the NHS. This leads to the democratic logic that most Tory MPs should be excluded from voting on such matters.
Nick Jeffrey

Guardian house style is to call Islamic State “Isis” (G2, 22 September), when MPs, the BBC and even the Evening Standard refer to it as IS. Get with it. Apart from appearing lazy and ignorant, you are trampling on the sensitivities of those who know something of the great Egyptian mother goddess, Isis, whose attributes are diametrically opposed to those of Islamic State.
Jean Williams

Margaret Thatcher Object of fantasy: Margaret Thatcher Photograph: David Montgomery/Getty Images

I wonder how many others have memories similar to Hilary Mantel’s (Mantel recalls day she saw Maggie, 20 September)? My own sighting occurred as I approached the traffic lights at the foot of Edinburgh’s Mound in summer 1989. Coming up the hill was a cavalcade of shiny black motors and, from the back seat of one, Margaret Thatcher stared straight ahead, face set in that familiar, domineering expression. It was a warm day, my car window was open and, like Mantel’s, my hand instinctively formed that playground “bang bang you’re dead” gun shape. I’m not proud of such a violent response, but her policies destroyed all hope in so many of the young people with whom I was working at the time. And of course the hated poll tax had just been imposed on us in Scotland. Any other fantasy assassins out there?
Jenny Secker
Chelmsford, Essex

Tesco trolleys What happened at Tesco shows a systemic problem with big international businesses. Photograph: Will Oliver/EPA

Your report (Shares slide as Tesco admits hole in profits, 23 September) quotes Tesco’s chairman saying: “Things are always unnoticed until they are noticed.” As Americans put it: “I think he said a mouthful.” Let’s look back at a few episodes in the recent history of global capitalism which went unnoticed until they were noticed: the collapse of BCCI, Barings bank, Enron, the fraudulent rigging of Libor and of payment protection plans, and the virtual collapse of the banking system caused by banks woefully failing to fulfil their first duty, to build adequate capital reserves and manage risk. This caused the worst crisis for capitalist democracies since the 1920s and we will be suffering from its effects for another decade. Meanwhile the poorest and weakest are paying the highest price.

There is a systemic problem. The men (and they are usually men) who run great international enterprises like Barclays, RBS and Tesco receive huge salaries and even bigger bonuses which are dependent on maximising short-term profit. No one seems to be paid much to check the accuracy of accounting and, if they are, they are not very good at it. It took a whistleblower to bring Tesco’s financial mismanagement to light. Governments only found out that banks were at the point of collapse in 2008 when bank executives confessed that unless governments gave them billions of pounds immediately, their cash machines would stop working. Since then, despite all that has been said and done, what has happened at Tesco shows that this systemic problem remains. Until it is addressed, future financial crises will make the events of 2007-08 seem like a blip.
Patrick Renshaw

• The Tesco farce again highlights what a waste of space the entire auditing world is. On this occasion, one of the “big six”, PwC, seems to have failed miserably but, as usual in this alternative universe, another – Deloitte – is called in to make “an independent judgment”. Auditors are emperors with no clothes. Yet the public and private sector continues to pay these bean counters an absolute fortune for nothing.
John McCartney
Goole, East Yorkshire

• Will Tesco’s Chris Bush and co be sanctioned and lose their benefits – sorry, enormous salary and bonuses – while they are being investigated? Or does it only work like that for benefit claimants?
Di Oliver
Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire

A US warplane Super Hornet lands on the aircraft carrier USS George HW Bush after taking part in strike missions against Islamic State targets in Syria A US warplane lands on the aircraft carrier USS George HW Bush after taking part in strike missions against Islamic State group targets in Syria. Photograph: MC3 Brian Stephens/US Navy/AP

Along with most British people, we opposed an attack on Iraq in 2003. The brutal reality of the invasion and occupation confirmed our worst fears. At least half a million died and the country was devastated. Now, less than three years after US troops were pulled out, the US is bombing again. The British government is considering joining military action, not just in Iraq but in Syria too. All the experience of the varied military action taken by the west in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya shows that such interventions kill innocents, destroy infrastructure and fragment societies, and in the process spread bitterness and violence. While we all reject the politics and methods of Isis, we have to recognise that it is in part a product of the last disastrous intervention, which helped foster sectarianism and regional division. It has also been funded and aided by some of the west’s allies, especially Saudi Arabia. More bombing, let alone boots on the ground, will only exacerbate the situation. We urge the government to rule out any further military action in Iraq or Syria.
Caryl Churchill playwright
Brian Eno musician
Tariq Ali writer and broadcaster
Jeremy Corbyn MP
Lindsey German convenor of the Stop the War Coalition
Diane Abbott MP
Mark Rylance actor
Ken Loach film director
Michael Rosen author and broadcaster
Kate Hudson general secretary of CND
John McDonnell MP
Sami Ramadani Iraqi writer and campaigner
Len McCluskey general secretary of Unite
Amir Amarani film director
Mohammed Kozbar vice-president of the Muslim Association of Britain
Dr Anas Altikriti
Walter Wolfgang Labour CND
Andrew Murray chief of staff Unite

Packed rail platform in London Packed rail platform in London Photograph: Lefteris Pitarakis/AP

The real problem is not a lack of transport infrastructure in London, but an absurd concentration of jobs in our capital city (Looming London transport crisis ‘risks sparking riots’, 22 September). This has led to shockingly high house prices and to priced-out workers then having to travel long distances to work. If we provide more and cheaper transport links, we allow yet more jobs to be based there and we subsidise employers who wish to be based in an expensive city but still pay low wages. Surely the best solution is for public sector jobs to move out of London and into areas of high unemployment, where there is much less pressure on transport and other services. In particular, parliament could move to somewhere cheaper and more central. Many private sector jobs would follow.
Richard Mountford
Tonbridge, Kent

• Just days into the English devolution debate sparked by the Scottish referendum result, Peter Hendy’s crass warning of riots by the capital’s low-paid workers unless more major infrastructure projects like Crossrail 2 are built is a timely reminder of just how hard it is going to be to shift the interests that continue to concentrate almost all national major infrastructure investment in the capital, without any democratic debate involving the rest of the country. Meanwhile, in the regions served by Northern Rail, the Department for Transport imposes record fare increases on rail commuters packed into obsolete trains, which may, if we are lucky, be replaced by refurbished District line rolling stock, (Report, 7 September).
Michael White

• Transport for London proposes to spend billions to ensure that lower-paid workers must live further away from their place of work, thus adding to their already long working day and increasing their travelling costs. Surely the answer is more housing for low-paid workers, not making London inhabitable by only the rich. This is not just a London problem. The imbalance between London and the rest of the country is unsustainable. That must be a part of the debate the entire country should be having following the Scottish referendum.
David Pugh
Newtown, Powys

Proud of the NHS badge  ‘Labour must undo the damage done to the NHS by the Health and Social Care Act.’ Photograph: David Sillitoe for the Guardian

If Ed Miliband wants to put the NHS at the heart of his election campaign (Report, 23 September), he and the Labour party need to take a much stronger stance.

Labour must reverse NHS cuts and privatisation, and re-establish a comprehensive public health service providing for all on the basis of need – not a logo above a marketplace of profit-making companies.

We welcome Labour’s pledge to repeal the Health and Social Care Act and associated “competition regulations”, and to restore the ministerial duty to provide national health services. We welcome Andy Burnham’s commitment to protect the NHS from international “free trade” agreements.

But we need to go further, to undo the damage done by the act, and by years of policies shifting the NHS towards a market system, like the “internal market”, widespread privatisation and outsourcing, and fragmentation into competing units. We want a fight to bring contracts already in private hands back into the NHS. We want an end to the private finance initiative and liberation from crushing PFI debts. We want an end to cash-driven closures, a reversal of cuts, and adequate funding to rebuild the NHS as a genuine public service.

We support a living wage for health workers and a mandatory minimum staffing ratio of one nurse to every four patients. We want integration of health and social care to mean that social care becomes a public service. We want a reversal of attacks on migrants’ access to the NHS.
Joanna Adams People’s March for the NHS, Wendy Savage President, Keep Our NHS Public, John Lipetz Co-Chair, KONP, Dr Louise Irvine Chair, Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign, Colin Standfield Ealing Hospital SOS, Sacha Ismail NHS Liaison Network, Kate Osamor NHS worker and Labour party national executive committee-elect, Christine Shawcroft Labour party national executive committee, Owen Jones and 135 others Full list at

monopoly board illo Illustration by Gary Kempston

The merry-go-round of debt

In his article “Europe’s economic nightmare approaches” (12 September), Paul Mason bases his analysis on the theory that over-indebtedness leads to deflation. However, the very term “over-indebtedness” makes no sense in 2014 where, as finally made explicit by the Bank of England in the article “Money creation in the modern economy” (in their 2014 Q1 Quarterly Bulletin), the vast majority of all money is created as debt by commercial banks making loans. In short, if the economy grows, that means more debt has been created. Reduce the amount of debt, and by definition there’s less money in the economy. Pay off all debt, and the economy will be left with no money in it. In this scenario, how much debt is too much debt?

So, a growing economy means more money, which is created by increasing the amount of debt. And, as Mason says, more indebtedness means people spend more money repaying the debt – and stop spending. No wonder ordinary people in the modern world feel like they are sprinting just to stand still.

We have to move away from this crazy system where money is, by government fiat, created as debt by commercial banks. (And where the bankers collect the interest on that debt into their own pockets.) Our money must be created democratically by the people who use it, not by private bankers for their own profit. Where Mason is right, though, is that making this change will give us something that doesn’t look like capitalism as we know it. Would that be such a bad thing?
Steve Cassidy
Tábua, Portugal

Politics and funding

Re: Warwick Smith’s comment piece (19 September), when will the voting public of Australia realise the debilitating effect that political donations have on Australian democracy, such as it is. It is not difficult to speculate on what is expected when the “donors” come knocking on the doors of government looking for some return on investment. Are political donations therefore tantamount to an inducement of malfeasance?

Why is it necessary for political parties to source external funds for campaigns when they already receive funding from government coffers for election purposes? A rejection of funding from predominantly business sources would reduce the quantity of inane and incessant advertising during the election phase and provide a level playing field for all legitimate election candidates.
Clive Parrett
Melbourne, Australia

Israel, war and antisemitism

The Israeli government could have levied a 10% surtax on all incomes above the median to pay for the recent Gaza war (Israel faces sharp budget cuts to meet cost of conflict, 5 September). Its refusal to raise taxes, to cut education funding instead, is symbolic of the neoliberal economy above all-style politics pursued by too many democracies around the world. Future generations will pay the price; my sincere apologies to them.
André Carrel
Terrace, British Columbia, Canada

• Definitely, antisemitism is a pest that must be totally and utterly separated from the criticism of the Israeli state (Owen Jones, 15 August). However, for some it seems convenient to maintain the confusion: I was recently labelled “antisemitic” by Jews for my criticism of the behaviour of Israel. I contacted my Jewish friends for clarification. They bluntly told me that the behaviour of the Israel state was the perfect negation of Jewish ethics.
Jean-Marie Gillis
Wezembeek-Oppem, Belgium

Controlling the brumbies

I can understand that there may be a need to limit the ecological damage done by brumbies (Australia’s wild horses face end of their trek, 12 September) and, by the way, thank you for the explanation as to how the name came about. Yes, they cause ecological damage and that has to stop. However, it seems to me that slaughter may not be the only answer.

Has anyone noticed that some of the brumbies, running wild, have obvious male features? However, has anyone ever thought of that as the key to a less terrifying solution than slaughter, which might solve the problem entirely in a, shall we say, kinder manner.

I am sure you know where I am going with this and I apologise to the gods of libido. However, would sedation and castration of a sensibly calculated percentage of male brumbies not achieve the desired end, eventually, without slaughter? It is just a thought. I expect most female readers would agree. I do not want to hear from the male readers.
Ian Cameron
Devonport, Auckland, New Zealand

Back on the shelf

I enjoyed Rachel Cooke’s article on reading (5 September). As someone who has read voraciously ever since I could, I love not only the solitariness of reading but also talking about books with friends.

We moved to Geneva almost three decades ago. Initially, I didn’t know any readers, so the books I read were exclusively ones I or my husband picked up. I am now a part of a community of readers, which has enriched my reading experience. They have lent me books that I would not have read on my own (a reason to buy physical books, as far as I’m concerned!), and vice versa. It’s all part of what Phyllis Rose did by reading her way through a library shelf – widen her reading horizons.
Suroor Alikhan
Geneva, Switzerland

Queen and country

I write regarding Emer O’Toole’s article (22 August) about choosing not to swear an oath to the Queen to obtain Canadian citizenship. I think perhaps she is just having a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day” and should consider moving to Australia, where her views might find more support. Or alternatively she could move south of the border to America where no allegiance to a monarch is necessary. Since she mentions her political leanings I hasten to add that socialism is really in a bad way down there and could use her support.

As a Canadian citizen, I am a strong supporter of the British crown. I was born on a Saskatchewan farm on 17 September, 1940, sometimes considered to be Battle of Britain Day, when Hitler decided he was not going to invade England after all. My early childhood was strongly influenced by my mother’s belief that George VI and the British crown provided Britain and its dominions with a rallying point against Nazism. And so I have grown up with a profound respect for it.
David Malcolm
Inuvik, Northwest Territories, Canada


• I would have to read a transcript, but I do not think that Judge Masipa said she believes Oscar Pistorius did not murder anyone (19 September), only that the prosecution had not produced evidence “beyond all reasonable doubt” in law that he did.

Another judge and assessors might take a different view as to the level of proof, which at least means that a defence appeal against the culpable homicide verdict is highly unlikely, however severe the sentence.
Adrian Betham
London, UK

• With regard to Paul Mason’s criteria for the perfect city (5 September), I wonder whether he was thinking about Wellington, New Zealand. It is a small city with a population of approximately 135,000 and a centre so compact it can be walked across in 30 minutes unless you want to stop and try on some vintage clothing or enjoy a craft beer or perhaps take in a play and afterwards enjoy a real coffee in one of our numerous owner-operated coffee bars.

Apart from some minor issues – Wellington’s trams were scrapped in the 1960s,the bicycle network is a work in progress and the sea can be chilly – I am sure Wellington has everything on Paul’s wishlist.
Bob Dunkerley
Wellington, New Zealand

• Dogs as an adjunct to human activity (Patrick Barkham, 12 September) should be anchored in our psyche. Dogs hunt, dogs work, and only since breeds have become an extension to human behaviour has a dog’s life become, well, a dog’s life. Never, like me, give a sofa to a friend who lives in a flat with an Alsatian. The dog will just destroy what could have been that friend’s wonderful relationship.
E Slack
L’Isle Jourdain, France

• The United Kingdom should be an annually renewable lease (Will Scotland break the union? 12 September). Let the referendum be an yearly affair. Bleed Westminster dry.
Jeffry Larson
Hamden, Connecticut, US


If Scottish MPs at Westminster are to be barred from voting on issues that mainly affect England, presumably English MPs will also be barred from voting on issues that mainly affect Scotland. This would stop them from being able, by virtue of their far greater numbers, to force on the Scots all sorts of things that Scottish MPs would never have voted for.

The first such vote should obviously be whether the nuclear submarines that English MPs dumped on Scotland, against the wishes of the vast majority of Scots, should stay where they are, just a short distance from Scotland’s largest city. Once Scottish MPs have voted to get rid of them, all those English MPs who thought nuclear submarines were a great idea as long as they were far away in Scotland will face the prospect of having these dangerous craft in their constituencies.

Sheila Miller


The Scottish referendum has produced a result in which the losers will prove to be the winners, which makes Alex Salmond’s resignation stranger than it seemed at first. If the promises made  by David Cameron were kept, as they almost certainly will be, then Scotland will be, in all but name, an independent country.

If we are one nation, as so many have insisted, then I can see no reason why all MPs should not vote on all matters concerning that one nation. But it looks as if we are going to have all kinds of devolution, which should mean there is little or no need for a House of Commons or a House of Lords, so perhaps the referendum result is a good one after all.

Bill Fletcher

Cirencester, Gloucestershire


The answer to the West Lothian question is simple.

Westminster MPs from a 50-mile radius adjoining the Scottish border should sit and vote in the Holyrood Parliament. Thus, Scottish MSPs would have to consider their neighbours on whom their decisions might have an effect; northern English MPs would have a legitimate claim to have a say in Scotland. This would balance the claim that Scottish MPs must vote on England-only matters as it might affect them. Honour is thus restored on all sides. A similar system could be adopted for Wales, leaving time for a lively debate about how we might decide Northern Ireland’s affairs.

Peter Cunningham


I am extremely dismayed and almost disgusted at the Labour and Scottish leaderships’ stance on the West Lothian question. The WLQ has been around since the late 1970s as has the flawed Barnett formula – where Scotland gets 19 per cent per capita more than England. No wonder the Scottish Parliament can dish out all sorts of freebies and socialist programmes to keep the inner-cities voting for the free money.

Both need sorting out if Scotland gets more powers.  It is not democratic to leave it as it is, as pointed out by Chris Grayling at the weekend. In the event of a Yes win, the independence negotiations were planned to take 18 months.

The same timescale can be used for further devolution talks and addressing the WLQ. I might also add that I am fed up subsidising Scottish business and retail outlets with higher costs for us in England. Costs should fall where they lie.

Colin Macleod Stone



The sad part is that normal isn’t better

I was impressed with Oliver Wright’s paean to dyslexics and (implicitly) to others with non-normal abilities.

I employed many programmers over the years when I ran a software development company and a high percentage were dyslexic. Most of these were quite brilliant in seeing through the morass of logic required for any big project but often found it hard to explain to the “ordinary” programmers how or why they wrote what they did. Suffice to say, their work  was some of the most inventive and successful code we produced.

This is purely anecdotal and may not indicate that dyslexics make good programmers but it does reflect a well proven phenomenon where people excel in some areas despite or maybe because of struggling to achieve the “norm” in others. Given that the “norm” is the same as the average and the standard, who would want  to be normal?

The sad part is that some sections of society, education and commerce would rather we were all normal but that is mostly laziness on their part. Different can be good. Very different can be very good.

William Charlton


Why not in my back yard?

I am truly conflicted (Mary Dejevsky, 23 September). A couple of weeks ago an email was circulated around our leafy neighbourhood in East Molesey exhorting us to write in to complain about increased potential noise and harm caused by a new trial air route round Heathrow.

One resident even said she had moved to Molesey all the way from Richmond to avoid the noise. Who among us can say we have not shared in the benefits of air travel, especially those of us who can pop down to the almost equidistant airports of Gatwick or Heathrow and set off for a light lunch or weekend in Milan or Paris?

I am trying not to be a Nimby and so, despite the possible damage to my personal sleep patterns if the flight path were to change, how can I argue that it is better for the residents of Richmond to suffer more than those of East Molesey? Or for the birds of Boris Island to be moved on?

Anthony Lipmann

East Molesey, Surrey

The argument for Heathrow expansion

Mary Dejevsky concludes that the benefits of Heathrow expansion are ‘‘overstated’’ (23 September). That is not the view of thousands of residents, businesses and workers who depend on the UK’s only hub airport. Heathrow’s importance is recognised by the 40,000 people who have joined our campaign to ensure the airport grows and succeeds. Nationally, millions of passengers rely on the  long-haul connections that only a bigger and better Heathrow can deliver.

Rob Gray

Back Heathrow Campaign, Hounslow


I’ll bet Janet a tenner I can prove her wrong

Janet Street-Porter is completely wrong (20 September). Choice of beer is not simply down to packaging. I am happy to sit down with her and, for a £10 bet, in a blind tasting identify a real ale such as Fuller’s London Pride or Timothy Taylor’s Landlord from Heineken or Stella Artois lagers. It would be the easiest tenner I’d ever earned. Janet needs to learn a hell of a lot more about beer before making such wild statements. I’m wondering whether anything else she writes about can be trusted.

Michael O’Hare

Northwood, Middlesex


This is not Tesco’s finest hour

I like Tesco, my small neighbourhood store carrying things I want at a good price, run by nice staff as a part of a giant but relatively uncomplicated enterprise – so what went wrong?

Tesco has said that the overstatement of its half-year profits by £250m was ‘‘principally due to the accelerated recognition of commercial income and delayed accrual of costs’’.

It’s a long time since I did Business Accountancy 101 but I know exactly what that means. My query is how did PwC, the firm’s auditor for three decades, manage to miss it? Its shares are down 40 per cent this year and in case you think it’s not your problem, if you have a company pension fund, an insurance policy, or a shares ISA, it’s your problem.

Dr John Cameron

St Andrews


Independent’s front page make me proud

Thank you Indy for your front page featuring Emma Thompson, highlighting the threat to humanity that others choose to ignore.

I took part in the London march with thousands of other people, to unite in voicing our fears for the future of our grandchildren and the planet that they will inherit. It makes me proud to be an Indy reader.

Margaret Hayday

Benfleet, Essex


Tiresome pun amid a mixed message

The Independent is loud in its silence over celebrity Royal events and quick to publish letters congratulating itself on the same. Yet you report an important climate change march with the front page headline (22 September) “The nanny states her case: Emma Thompson joins climate launch” and a dominating picture of the smiling celebrity. Quite apart from the tiresome pun, how is Ms Thompson’s attendance the news story here? Could you perhaps share your policy on celebrity newsworthiness with us readers?

Julian Stanford



Silly season is over

Lord Bell’s suggestion that Hilary Mantel be investigated by the police  for incitement to murder is ridiculous!  You cannot incite someone to murder a person who is dead. And where will this end? Should Lord Dobbs be investigated for his novel set in the House of Lords in which the Queen is the target.  Police have enough serious work to do and Lord Bell should be aware that the August silly season is over.

Sue Miller

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

House of Lords


Sir, With regard to “Medical schools ‘moving admissions goalposts’ ” (Sept 22), the School of Medicine at the University of Leeds has not changed and would not change any qualification requirements mid-cycle.We operate a transparent admissions process that is reflective of the changes taking place in secondary education.
Dr Gail Nicholls
Director of admissions, School of Medicine, University of Leeds

Sir, No one can disagree with the conclusion of the latest Cancer Research UK report that earlier diagnosis of common cancers could improve survival chances (“Half of cancers spotted too late to save lives”, Sept 22). In many cases, the key to rapid diagnosis is the availability of medical imaging — X-rays and scans — and the expert interpretation of these images.

We are aware of growing delays in reporting images due to a shortage of those trained to interpret them. With about half as many radiologists as other comparable Western nations, there is an urgent need for the UK to train a larger workforce and to remove the barriers that prevent clinical radiology services working more efficiently on a networked basis. We are seeking the support of all the main parties in achieving this.
Giles Maskell
President, the Royal College of Radiologists

Sir, Your report (“Bridge to the past as children honour the heroes of Arnhem”, Sept 22) of the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Arnhem says that on the night of September 25 we withdrew “to the safety of territory held by the Poles”. Not so. As one who swam the River Neder Rijn
I can assure you that when we crossed to the south bank it was bravely held by the 43rd Division, the leading infantry division of the 30 Corps relieving force.
Lewis Golden
Petworth, W Sussex

Sir, You report that 25,000 paedophiles have been identified but most will not be caught (Sept 23). So the offence is more prevalent than we thought. Surely this is a reason to increase the maximum sentence for those who are caught. Prevalence is relevant to sentence, and prevalence is measured by how much something happens, not by how much of it leads to arrest or conviction.
JJ Rowe, QC
Bowdon, Cheshire

Sir, I was impressed that 68-year-old Tim Claye and his wife had recently picked 4.5 tonnes of olives (letter, Sept 22). One wonders, however, what Warwickshire Wildlife Trust is doing with all those olive trees. They are not native and hence are not supporting British wildlife.
Dr Michael Cullen
Dunvegan, Isle of Skye


Those who worked with Edward Lord were shocked to hear of his dismissal by the Football Association last week

Dismissed: Edward Lord, the inclusion adviser dismissed by the Football Association

Dismissed: Edward Lord, the inclusion adviser dismissed by the Football Association

6:57AM BST 23 Sep 2014


SIR – Having known and worked with Edward Lord, the inclusion adviser dismissed by the Football Association last week, we are surprised by the FA’s statement announcing his departure. Without taking sides in the dispute, we believe the statement describes a character that we simply don’t recognise.

In our experience Mr Lord is a capable, professional, and collegial board member, and an inspiring advocate for equality and social inclusion, whose public service has been recognised at the highest level.

As group chairman of the Amateur Swimming Association – representing England’s largest participation sport – and through his continuing involvement in football, we are certain he will still lead the way in UK sport by speaking out for those who cannot speak up for themselves.

George Dorling
Chairman, London Football Association

Sir Stephen Bubb
Chairman, Social Investment Business

Lord Dholakia

The Rev Canon Mark Oakley
Chancellor, St Paul’s Cathedral

Rabbi Dr Deborah Kahn Harris
Principal, Leo Baeck College

Rachel Beadle
Former Chair, The Pride Trust

Cllr Ruth Cadbury (Lab)
Former Deputy Chair, Improvement & Innovation Board, Local Government Association

George Dorling
Chairman, London Football Association

Lynne Featherstone MP (Lib Dem)

Jim Fitzpatrick MP (Lab)

Cllr Peter Fleming (Con)
Leader, Sevenoaks District Council
Chairman, Improvement & Innovation Board, Local Government Association

Ed Fordham
Chair, LGBT+ Lib Dems

Alderman Tim Hailes JP
Elected Member, City of London Corporation

Claire Harvey
Ambassador, LGBT Sports Charter

Colm Howard-Lloyd
Chair, LGBTory

Cllr Peter John (Lab)
Leader, London Borough of Southwark

Simon Johnson
Non-Executive Director, Amateur Swimming Association

Dan Large
Former Campaign Director, Freedom to Marry

Mark MacGregor
Former Chief Executive, The Conservative Party

Sir Nick Partridge
Former Chief Executive, The Terrence Higgins Trust

Mayor Jules Pipe (Lab)
Chair, London Councils

Cllr Jill Shortland (Lib Dem)
Former Leader, Somerset County Council
Vice Chair, Improvement & Innovation Board, Local Government Association

Terry Stacy JP
Former Leader, London Borough of Islington

Richard Stephenson
Former President of the National Conservative Convention

Jo Swinson MP (Lib Dem)

Mayor Dorothy Thornhill (Lib Dem)

Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson (Lib Dem)
Vice Chair, Local Government Association

Cllr Jess Webb (Lab)
Former Speaker of Hackney Council
Equal Opportunities Officer, RMT

Samuel West
Chair, National Campaign for the Arts

It is perilous for an island nation such as Britain to rely on foreign ships and crew

The crew of the SS Norman in 1896

Merchant Navy: the crew of the SS Norman in 1896

6:58AM BST 23 Sep 2014


SIR – I have spent my entire working life at sea in ships, from apprentice to Master Mariner. Since 1995 I have been privileged, as a Port of London pilot, to bring ships in and out of London.

During this time I have witnessed the decline of British-officered ships. Just this week, I boarded a 37,000-ton tanker with a cargo of ultra-low-sulphur diesel fuel. It was registered in London and I was curious, before I reached the bridge, as to the nationality of the master. It turned out that the captain was Russian.

British ships need no longer be captained by British officers because, in the dying days of John Major’s administration in 1997, an all-party select committee decided as much. This was after much lobbying by ship owners to reduce their crewing costs. A statutory instrument amended the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act, without any debate in Parliament.

For an island nation to rely on foreign ships and a few British ships crewed by foreigners is a suicide note. It also insults those seamen of the British merchant navy whose cargoes saved this country from starvation twice, during two world wars.

Why was the law changed?

Christopher P R Clarke
Little Clacton, Essex

Message in a bottle

SIR – Last week the post was collected too early for me to get a birthday card to a friend for the following day.

There is no point in paying to send anything first class as it is about as reliable as throwing a message in a bottle out to sea – and now we are supposed to throw it out on the morning tide.

Felicity Foulis Brown
Bramley, Hampshire

Rasher decisions

SIR – Alan Self should certainly not give up bacon. He should buy proper bacon from a proper butcher.

This way he can buy as much or as little as he wants and his rashers, wrapped in greaseproof paper, will keep for much longer than plastic-packaged bacon.

Suzie Marwood
London SW6

SIR – Mr Self can patronise his friendly local butchers and buy as much excellent bacon as he wants, or, as I do, buy a piece of belly pork and cure his own. At least he will know he is eating 100 per cent bacon.

Ian Carter
Lytham St Annes, Lancashire

Longer school days

SIR – I chose to teach at an independent school as a second career. The school day was a minimum of nine hours for day students with an extra hour of prep for boarders. My own hours exceeded 80 a week, including Saturday morning school, sports coaching, Combined Cadet Force activities and school trips.

The Teacher Support Network’s concern about the health and wellbeing of fellow professionals, whose average school hours are 8.30am to 3pm five days a week, reveals the disparity between state and independent sectors.

Hard work and pride in shaping future generations should be basic ingredients of teaching. Personal time is well catered for with generous school holidays. My attitude is shaped by the career I had prior to teaching; I was in the British Army.

Wesley Thomas
Stonehouse, Gloucestershire

Down with Downton

SIR – Can there be anyone else in this country who thinks, as I do, that Downton Abbey is a most dreadful bore?

Dudley Paget-Brown
Esher, Surrey

One reader’s childhood memories of the Wallace Collection remind us that the past is a foreign place

On guard: the Wallace Collection was bequeathed to Britain by Lady Wallace in 1897

On guard: the Wallace Collection was bequeathed to Britain by Lady Wallace in 1897 Photo: Alamy

6:59AM BST 23 Sep 2014


SIR – It is good to know that the Wallace Collection is opening again and still going strong.

Some of my best childhood memories are of spending Saturday mornings there during the school holidays, while my father worked at his nearby office.

Aged eight or nine, I loved looking at the art works and admiring the great collection of historic armour. Wandering around alone, I hardly saw a soul, and could daydream to my heart’s content.

Who works a five-and-a-half-day week now? And who today would dare leave a child alone anywhere in London? But that was in 1949; the past is a foreign country.

John Underwood
Bramber, West Sussex

Labour’s desire for Scottish MPs to continue voting on purely English issues is transparent and undemocratic

Ed Miliband, the Labour leader.

Ed Miliband has refused to say whether he backs the PM’s plans to ban Scottish MPs from voting on English laws Photo: PA

7:00AM BST 23 Sep 2014


SIR – Labour’s position on representation has descended into rank gerrymandering. Labour has for years resisted a much-needed adjustment to constituency boundaries that would address the unfairness of Labour seats being on average 6 per cent smaller than Conservative ones.

Now Ed Miliband dredges up fatuous excuses for permitting Scottish Labour MPs to continue voting on English matters after they lose the ability to influence the same matters in their own constituencies. This is so transparently undemocratic and based on naked political self-interest, that ethical members of the shadow cabinet disagree with him.

Termination of the involvement of Scottish MPs in purely English affairs, after the introduction of devo max for Scotland early next year, is so clearly desirable and easy to implement that it need not await the substantive national debate that must precede a full constitutional settlement.

The main political parties can simply agree with the Speaker that, as soon as devo max becomes effective for Scotland, a new convention will operate in the House of Commons under which Scottish MPs will not vote on those matters involving England which have become, in Scotland, exclusively reserved for Holyrood. The rest can follow later.

Gregory Shenkman
London W8

SIR – Why does Scotland require three sets of MPs – SMPs, Westminster MPs, European MPs – on top of local government?

David Bannister
Driffield, East Yorkshire

SIR – At one stage during the Scottish referendum campaign Alex Salmond told us: “The English will dance to a Scottish tune.” Even though he lost, it seems now that he was right.

Raymond Whittle
Marlborough, Wiltshire

SIR – With his attitude to Scots MPs continuing to vote on English matters, Ed Balls is typical of the professional MP class. They simply cannot do what is right and proper. Instead, they are only interested in protecting their jobs. Integrity? Hah!

Lt Col Dale Hemming-Tayler (retd)
Edith Weston, Rutland

SIR – Now we can see a master plan that rights the British constitution, while winning the Tories the general election in 2015.

Scottish devolution started life as a ploy to shore up Labour’s Westminster vote with Scottish MPs. This was outbid by Scottish nationalism and almost cost the Union. Fortunately the tail that sought to wag the dog has not been cut off.

Meanwhile British Tories, anxious to restore national authority in order to halt EU federalism, foresaw the possibility that a nationalist victory could leave what remained of Britain being constricted by an unholy alliance of Scotland and Brussels, while Ukip digested Britain from within.

Sir William Mackay (who led a commission on the subject) is said to have prepared a list of subjects that Scots MPs should not vote on. This is the simplest (and most logical) solution to the West Lothian Question. It could in time be extended to any (eventual, expensive) devolution of further powers to Northern Ireland, Wales and the regions – while leaving Ukip stranded without a programme, and a rejuvenated Tory party to return the EU to its proper level of authority.

William Wyndham
Lewes, East Sussex

SIR – In a statement on devolution, the Prime Minister says that matters will move forward swiftly “in tandem”. It is to be hoped that he means “in parallel”, or the process may last for a very long time.

Michael Nicholson
Dunsfold, Surrey

Irish Times:

Sir, – Further to your editorial (“Lost for words”, September 23rd), there is indeed a serious lack of speech and language therapy services. I work in three part-time speech and language therapy jobs – public, private and charitable. I have been a speech and language therapist for 28 years. Waiting times are only the tip of the iceberg.

Public services are pushed to lower waiting times by the colour-coded system. If children wait less than four months, your service stays green. The question we are not expected to ask is, “What are they waiting for?” If the only measure of success is reduced waiting times, then the pressure on speech and language therapists is to assess, minimally treat and move on to the next child. There is little room for a careful, effective and compassionate approach to children and families, especially those with significant disabilities.

Meanwhile I am surrounded by qualified graduates working in non-professional jobs, planning to emigrate or return to college because employment opportunities are so scarce.

Speech and language therapy should be “what it says on the tin” – therapeutic.

In the overworked, overstressed world of the speech and language therapist, reaching out to support a family whose child has not achieved the ability to talk is a constant challenge. How much harder must it be to be the parent of a child with communication difficulty? – Yours, etc,


Rock Cottage,

Skibbereen, Co Cork.

Sir, – Further to Carl O’Brien’s article (“Child speech therapy services ‘a lottery’, says report”, September 22nd), once again the critical gap in resources to meet needs, long waiting times, discontinuities in provision at critical points in children’s development and unmanageable caseloads are highlighted. Meanwhile we continue to watch as many of our speech and language therapy graduates leave Ireland to seek employment elsewhere.

Meeting children’s speech, language, communication and swallowing needs requires a continuum of care delivered by therapists in partnership with parents, educators and others. Some children may have their needs met by a relatively short course of intervention, others will require support across childhood, adolescence and into adulthood. Meeting current and future needs not only requires additional posts, but also a resolve to organise and deliver services so that children are provided both a timely and sufficient level of service to achieve meaningful outcomes.

Taking a child from the “waiting list” and assessing needs is but a starting point; once in the system children need to be provided enough effective intervention to support communication development and thus maximise long-term participation in education, employment and society. 2014 is designated International Communication Project Year, which emphasises communication as a fundamental human right. Inclusion Ireland’s report and concurrent media articles are a stark reminder of the distance we have yet to travel to achieve this for all children here. – Yours, etc,



Department of Clinical


University of Limerick.

Sir, – I read Malachy Clerkin’s column in The Irish Times with interest (“Is there no end to Denis O’Brien’s intervention in Irish sport?”, September 18th).

Clearly Malachy Clerkin doesn’t want Denis O’Brien to support Irish soccer or Irish rugby. Would he have preferred that these sports would be denied any assistance that just might help them progress? It strikes me as a rather unusual stance for a sports journalist.

If Malachy had bothered to check the facts he would have learned that Denis O’Brien’s support for the Irish cricket team came as a result of a request for immediate assistance during the 2007 Cricket World Cup when they unexpectedly got through to the Super 8 round.

From the general tone of his column it would appear that Malachy would have been happier if the plea for help was rejected. If he has such a hang-up about financial contributions that have sought nothing in return, how does he feel about sports sponsorship?

What strikes me as particularly incongruous is how an advocate of sport could so determinedly attempt to convert what just might be a positive motivation into some covert agenda.

What lies ahead for readers of The Irish Times – Malachy Clerkin rails against corporate branding of sports? Opposing advertising on sports pages? Refuses any element of his salary which might be sourced from commercial activities?

Maybe Malachy is a sports journalist who simply does not like sports. Yours, etc,


Media adviser

to Denis O’Brien,

Fitzwilliam Quay, Dublin 4.

Sir, – One of the interesting titbits bandied about in the recent Scottish referendum was the curious fact that a fifth of “British” casualties in the first World War were Scottish. Irish casualties, from a country of similar population, were well less than half of the Scottish total. The difference is accounted for by the impossibility of bringing in conscription in Ireland, due to the fear of extreme republican opposition, especially after the Rising.

People such as John Bruton, who somehow persist in seeing themselves as virtuously anti-militarist, have a blind spot when it comes to this question. Redmond’s support for the war was the greatest act of political cowardice in modern Irish history. Sinn Féin’s successful campaign against conscription was perhaps that party’s greatest gift to the people of Ireland. All other debates about devolved powers, dominion status, oaths, etc, are minor details when set beside the question of Westminster’s power to forcibly conscript unwilling young men in wartime.

Tens of thousands of young lives were thrown away by Redmond’s short-sighted tactical decision to support enlistment. Tens of thousands of young lives were undoubtedly saved by Sinn Féin’s defeat of conscription. The numbers involved dwarf the casualties in 1916, the War of Independence, the Civil War, and the recent Troubles put together. Mr Bruton’s attempt to reimagine the gung-ho militarist Redmond as some kind of early John Hume figure is simply unhistorical. – Yours, etc,


Ferndale Road,


Dublin 11.

A chara, – Ian d’Alton (September 23rd) is himself guilty of a “dangerous illogicality”. He lays the blame for the “centre of Dublin” being “devastated” squarely on the shoulders of those who rebelled. I would remind him that he is the one who is reading “history backwards”. The rebels only had small arms and it was our British colonial overlords who devastated the city by using artillery and a warship (the Helga) to shell it. – Is mise,


Thormanby Road,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – It was heartening to hear Minister for Defence Simon Coveney say the following: “I think Irish people are very emotionally attached to 1916 as a pivotal point in Irish history and to suggest it wasn’t a significant event towards the achieving of Irish independence, I don’t think is a fair reflection and, in many ways, denigrates people and families who deserve better” (“Coveney ‘takes issue’ with Bruton’s Easter 1916 Rising comments”, September 22nd). – Yours, etc,


Shandon Crescent,


Dublin 7.

Sir, – While there is much in Mark Paul’s article “Excise cuts are best for big business, not local pubs” (September 19th) that we agree with, we feel that it is important to emphasise the reasons why an excise cut would be good for small businesses such as ours and why supporting an excise reversal is indeed supporting your local pub.

Government tax policy has imposed 28 cent on the average pint in three budgets – of which excise increases have been the key driver. As publicans, we have had no choice but to pass on these excise increases to our customers. In contrast, the large multiples can absorb these tax increases by spreading it over their product offer. This is causing a further widening of the price of alcohol in supermarkets versus in pubs.

Consider the cost of alcohol sold in supermarkets. Take for example last St Patrick’s Day, when a slab of beer – 24 cans – was available for €24. It is being sold as a loss leader. The same quantity of the same beer was €38 when sold on promotion in 2005.

Local pubs such as ours simply cannot compete with these kind of prices and this, along with the cultural shifts to which Mr Paul refers, encourages people to consume alcohol at home. Furthermore, the reality is that the cost of a meaningful VAT reduction would be prohibitive for the exchequer, whereas excise applies specifically to alcohol. The consecutive excise increases were an additional extra burden on our sector when compared to other small businesses around the country, as they targeted our sector and our sector alone. Conversely, an excise reduction would have a positive impact on the pub sector.

Finally, the reality is that excise increases have impacted on our cost of doing business. Excise impacts on margins, profitability and the sustainability of small businesses such as ours. This is why we are urging the people that enjoy socialising in our pubs and those of our members to support jobs, support their local and join us in our call on the Government to cut excise. – Yours, etc,



Vintners’ Federation

of Ireland,

Rocky’s Bar,

Nenagh, Co Tipperary;



Licensed Vintners’


Blue Café Bar, Skerries,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – Italy has added its voice to those countries trying to block our Government’s plans to ban branding on tobacco packaging (“Italy joins EU states objecting to Irish plan for plain cigarette packs”, September 19th). As Europe’s leading tobacco producing country and one of the top 10 tobacco growers worldwide, Italy’s motivation in opposing Ireland’s plans to reduce tobacco consumption is apparent. Indeed, it comes as no shock that eight out of nine countries attempting to prevent Ireland implementing the most important piece of tobacco control legislation since the 2004 workplace ban are tobacco producers. The ninth country, the Czech Republic, has one of the poorest tobacco control records in Europe.

While these states lodge objections with the European Commission, the real opposition is coming from the tobacco industry. This legislation is about health not tobacco profits, and a reduction in the 5,200 Irish deaths caused each year by the tobacco industry is what is at stake. – Yours, etc,


Asthma Society

of Ireland,

Amiens Street, Dublin 1.

Sir, – Anyone who wants to know what actually happened in the Scottish referendum should access the interactive map carried on your website. This shows the overwhelming rejection of independence by Scotland. A total of 28 of 32 electoral areas voted No, many of them by very large majorities. By contrast three areas, in a tiny heavily populated area centred in Glasgow, along with Dundee, voted Yes. So much for the “too close to call” nonsense of the polls and the predominantly wishful thinking of our media. Perhaps the nationalists’ next campaign should be for independence for Glasgow. – Yours, etc,



Castledermot, Co Kildare.

Sir, – I rejoice with Amhlaoibh Mac Giolla (September 22nd) that Ireland, having cast off the yoke of her former colonial oppressor, enjoys such a wealth of democratic freedom. I hasten to reassure him that, over on this side of the Irish Sea, we do have a certain, albeit limited, measure of democracy ourselves.

Granted, in the matter of our head of state, we pretty much have to accept what we’re given. As her role is largely ceremonial, this makes little practical difference to how we’re governed day to day. Just as in Ireland, we get to vote in a general election every few years. Between those elections, the government in power does exactly as it pleases, without any reference to those who elected it.

However, once a week, the prime minister calls on the queen, whose reign has seen many of his predecessors come and go. What passes between them is never disclosed, but it’s well known that, although her majesty has neither the authority nor the mandate to tell the prime minister what to do, she does give him advice, sometimes in quite forthright terms. Advice which he would be foolish not to listen to – whether he follows it or not.

The one thing the queen represents is continuity. She has a punishing schedule of official duties which would daunt someone half her age. She does have holidays, of course, which she usually spends in Scotland. How unseemly would it be if, heading off for her customary break, she had to stop at the border and show her passport? Grant that it may never happen. – Yours, etc,


Kelsey Close,

St Helens, Merseyside.

Sir, – I am a sports nut. I love sport. I am involved professionally in sport and in particular golf. But I can’t tolerate the Ryder Cup. I believe that there is already too much money in sport and in particular golf.

Then you have this elite event. Essentially this is an exhibition match played by 24 multimillionaires over a weekend and all the players talk about is the “pressure of the Ryder Cup”. These are people fortunate enough that they will never experience pressure the way the rest of us do in our work and lives. Yesterday you noted the “pressure the caddies are under” in the Ryder Cup (“No one gets closer to the action than the Ryder Cup caddies”, September 23rd). Oh, come on! Enough! – Yours, etc,



Dublin 3.

Sir, – Sean Moran (“Hard for neutrals to care as football gets stuck in the system”, September 23rd) writes: “For All-Ireland winners, the end justifies the means – for everyone else it’s just hard going”.

Mr Moran’s candid salience surely rings true throughout the land.

The handball/football hybrid that is now passed off as Gaelic football is a frustrating one for the genuine supporter, spectator and true footballer alike.

Tactical systems are okay in moderation, but the extreme, contorted, claustrophobic versions in so many matches these days surely leave much to be desired. – Yours, etc,


Chapel Street,


Co Waterford.

Sir, – I would like to add my voice to that of Brendan Lynch (September 22nd) regarding Oliver Goldsmith’s Lissoy parsonage in Co Westmeath. My last visit there was five years ago, when evidence of the neglect was already apparent. Sadly, without concerted pressure from local public opinion, it would seem unlikely that the council will take the initiative.

“A stitch in time saves nine”, however, and it would be in the interest of all concerned to expedite the matter. – Yours, etc,


Mapas Avenue,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – I refer to the article “All Hallows College for sale” (September 17th), in which it is stated that the college is owned by the Vincentians.

I wish to confirm that the Vincentian Fathers do not, or have not at any time, owned All Hallows College and would not therefore benefit in any way from the sale of the property. – Yours, etc,


Vincentian Fathers,

Provincial Office,

St Paul’s,

Sybil Hill,


Dublin 5.

Sir, – I was interested to read (“Irish society should draw up new ethical principles, says President”, September 23rd) that the recent conference in Dublin addressed by President Michael D Higgins was “organised by St Vincent de Paul”. Saints alive! – Yours, etc, 


Pine Valley Avenue,

Rathfarnham, Dublin 16.

Sir, – Enda Kenny’s “turn off the tap” remark (“Turn off tap when brushing teeth to save water, says Kenny”, September 18th) shows that his arrogance and pomposity are in full flow.– Yours, etc,


Harcourt Terrace,

Dublin 2.

Irish Independent:

It was the 40th anniversary of Watergate in August, which was a seismic event in 1974.

US President, Republican Richard Nixon, resigned on August 9 that year to avoid impeachment. He fired his close aides, but in the end the buck stopped with him, and Vice President Gerald Ford replaced him and granted him a pardon months later to help the country heal, as he put it.

It may never have happened only for the ‘Washington Post’s executive editor, Ben Bradlee and its journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (immortalised in ‘All the President’s Men’) finding out what was behind the break-in into the Democratic National Committee HQ in the Watergate Complex in Washington DC in June, months before the 1972 presidential election, which saw Nixon into his second term.

‘Deep Throat’ was one of their famous sources and was said never to be wrong. He was revealed a few years ago to have been a top FBI man.

What they found led to a two-year battle with the president and his aides, as the newspaper uncovered information, bit by bit, about how some close to Nixon were involved in the break-in to discover what the Democrats were doing to in the 1972 election.

Spying on rivals’ political camps was not unusual, but phone taps and break-ins were, and the ”Washington Post’ discovered these were a threat to democracy.

Nixon and his aides, who knew of the break-in, acted like they were untouchable. The integrity of the US federal legal system was severely tested.

The newspaper, alone at first, kept to its task and in the end Nixon’s recordings of conversations in the Oval Office forced him to resign. Crucial to this was investigating judge, John J Sirica, who insisted on the tapes being handed over.

The five main players involved in the break-in were jailed, along with a former US attorney general. When Ben Bradlee became editor in 1968, the ‘Washington Post’ was in the backwater and he wanted it to be a better newspaper.

He achieved this with Pulitzer Prizes and with controversies he had to face head on. He retired as editor in 1991.

Bradlee received the Medal of Freedom from President Obama in 2013. Here, in Ireland, the media exposed wrongdoings by Church and State and is also an important watchdog in protecting our democracy.

Mary Sullivan

Cork Curbing population growth

Recent statistics show that one in eight do not have enough to eat globally.

Almost every 12 or 13 years another billion is added to the global population, yet why does this issue never seem to get the media attention or debate it so crucially deserves?

The world’s scientists spend time searching for cures to life-ending diseases, yet disease is nature’s way of keeping global population numbers at controllable levels.

If there were no diseases – which is what some people would like – countries would have to spend astronomical amounts on aid for famine-stricken nations.

As controversial as it may be, leading nations must at some point face this and restrict population growth through sterilisation.

John O’Brien

Drogheda, Co Louth

Paisley was just one of a kind

I cannot help but think of Peter Robinson’s tribute to Ian Paisley in Stormont last week, in which we were told that we would, “never see [Paisley's] like again”.

That’s alright by me.

Killian Foley-Walsh


Saving the world – that’s rich

As our former President Mary Robinson expresses her concerns that ‘We’re running out of time to save the world’ perhaps she should take a closer look at the UN.

The UN, in the recent past, has been condemned for the overexpenditure by officials.

Much of the expense is due to upgrading to business and first class airline travel.

Marion Murphy

Sallins, Kildare

U2 take a page from Glen’s book

Recent coverage of U2 and their ‘free’ music reminds me of what the great Glen Campbell once sang: “Looking back, I can remember a time when I sang my songs for free.” So if it’s good enough for Glen . . .

Tom Gilsenan

Beaumont, Dublin 9

A rain dance in a downpour

So, Budget fever has descended again. Meanwhile, people are invited to “apply” for free water that already runs in their taps.

In what is resembling the equivalent of performing a rain dance in the middle of a downpour, the citizens are being asked to hand over their children’s private information.

Considering these two points, is it fair to ask whether those immigrants that are here from the EU will also be getting a water allowance for their children back home in the same way they get children’s allowance.

Or is the children’s allowance just Germany’s (and indeed the troika’s) way of transferring monies within the eurozone at Ireland’s expense?

Might I suggest that Joan Burton attends herself to these poor unfortunate children that live in foreign and cheaper economies with the full benefit of our high-cost allowances.

Perhaps a whistle-stop tour of the former Eastern Bloc countries would be in order.

She might even be accompanied by Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, fresh in his basking glory of having announced tax incentives to the dairy sector – the one sector of farmers who are not, ironically, complaining about the price of their produce having already benefited from a government hike in the price of their product.

Meanwhile, the rest of us poor plebs can await the drippings from Enda’s table; not unlike those who awaited the soup from the kind Quakers in the times of Trevelyan.

Who knows, if Joan and Simon were to go on such a trip, the vacuum could be filled by the new media darling and historian of some note – John Bruton.

Dermot Ryan

Athenry, Co Galway

Farrell doesn’t need saving

I read with increasing incredulity the disrespectful comments in Ed Power’s article regarding Colin Farrell (‘Can a TV show save Colin’s career?’ Irish Independent, September 23).

By any criteria, Farrell is one of this country’s leading acting talents.

That the article was instigated by his casting as a lead role in a major American television series surely is its own response.

He considers ‘In Bruges’ overrated, although it was a Golden Globe-winning performance by Farrell.

He compares him with other “failures” such as Oscar winners Angelina Jolie and Kevin Spacey. He also complains that Farrell does not live “outrageously enough” as a celebrity.

Having had the privilege of watching Farrell at work, he is a dedicated professional, determined to give his best to the project, able to play comedy and drama with equal success, and encouraging and supportive to everyone in front of and behind the camera.

It is a pity that Mr Power has not had this advantage.

There are many criteria to quantify the success of an acting role, not only Mr Power’s “bums on seats”, but by any balanced view, Farrell is an international success, of whom we should be proud.

James Finnegan

Tralee, Co Kerry

Irish Independent

Blood Transfusion

September 23, 2014

23 September 2014 Blood Transfusion

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day. Mary off to St James for her blood transfusion. Me to bank, books, Co op, and post office

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight up duck for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.


Iain MacCormick – obituary

Ian MacCormick was a clubbable MP for Argyll who pressed for greater self-government and a reform of divorce laws in Scotland

Iain MacCormick in 1976

Iain MacCormick in 1976 Photo: THE SCOTSMAN

5:46PM BST 22 Sep 2014


Ian MacCormick , who died aged 74 the day after voting “Yes” in the Scottish independence referendum, was MP for Argyll between 1974 and 1979, the period of the SNP’s greatest influence and numerical strength at Westminster.

He had an exceptional nationalist pedigree, being the elder son of John MacDonald MacCormick, a lawyer who in 1934 became the first national secretary of the SNP. His brother Sir Neil MacCormick, Regius Professor of Public Law at Edinburgh University, was a towering figure in Scottish intellectual and public life who devised a constitution for an independent Scotland and served as a Nationalist MEP.

Clubbable, civilised and with a natural streak of authority, MacCormick was teaching at Oban High School when in February 1974 Edward Heath called a snap election over the miners’ strike. Not only were the Conservatives defeated but the passions aroused by the campaign led to the collapse of the power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland – and a breakthrough in Scotland by the SNP.

Capitalising on the imminent arrival of North Sea oil and growing dissatisfaction over being governed from Westminster, the SNP, with its slogan “It’s Scotland’s Oil”, captured six seats to add to its previous one and came close in several others, giving Scotland’s traditional parties their greatest fright until the recent referendum.

MacCormick had stood in 1970 against the former Scottish Secretary Michael Noble. Facing a new Tory candidate and assisted by a doubling of the SNP’s share of the vote nationally, he captured Argyll by 3,288 votes.

The prospect of more losses to the SNP at a likely further election shocked Labour, now in power, into dropping its opposition to any form of home rule and promising a Scottish Assembly. But the grudging nature of the promise led that October to the SNP gaining four more seats, and MacCormick increasing his majority.

MacCormick and his colleagues badgered Labour to deliver on its promises and pressed for still greater self-government. The 1978 Scotland Act provided for an Assembly to which specific powers would be devolved, subject to approval at a referendum by — thanks to an amendment from Labour dissidents – not just a simple majority but 40 per cent of those registered to vote.

Meanwhile the SNP contingent at Westminster gained a reputation for conviviality, and MacCormick pushed through a reform of his own: the Divorce (Scotland) Act of 1976. Previous moves to change Scotland’s arcane divorce laws had been blocked by Scottish Tories who had had their marriages dissolved under the more relaxed regime in England.

When Labour’s devolution proposals were put to the people of Scotland on March 1 1979 51.6 per cent voted “Yes”, but with turnout only 63 per cent the threshold for approval was not reached. James Callaghan’s government pigeonholed the scheme, whereupon the SNP tabled a motion of no-confidence. Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives, scenting a chance to oust Labour after five frustrating years, took it over and on March 28 the motion was debated. Emotions ran high, Callaghan warning the SNP they were “turkeys voting for an early Christmas”. Amid dramatic scenes, Labour lost by 311 votes to 310 and an election was called. Mrs Thatcher emerged the winner, but the contest also proved disastrous for the SNP, all but two of its MPs losing their seats – MacCormick by 1,646 votes to the Conservative John Mackay.

Iain Somerled MacDonald MacCormick was born in Glasgow on September 28 1939. From Glasgow High School he was commissioned into the Queen’s Own Lowland Yeomanry, leaving in 1967 a captain. He then took a degree at Glasgow University and moved to Oban to teach until his election to Parliament .

After losing his seat MacCormick held managerial posts at BT, then from 1993 a number of business appointments. He left the SNP in 1981 to be a founder-member of the SDP, but later returned and campaigned for a “Yes” vote until being taken ill earlier this year and admitted to hospital, Despite his continuing illness, he insisted on going to vote in person.

Iain MacCormick was married three times: to Micky Trefusis Elsom in 1964 (dissolved 1987), to Carole Burnett in 1987 (dissolved 1991) and in 2009 to Riona McInnes, who survives him with two sons and three daughters from his first marriage.

Iain MacCormick, born September 28 1939, died September 19 2014


Ed Balls delivers his speech to the Labour party conference on 22 September 2014 in Manchester. Ed Balls delivers his speech to the Labour party conference on 22 September 2014 in Manchester. Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Three cheers for the proposal by Labour, when next in government, to introduce a phased increase in the minimum wage (Report, 22 September). What are we going to hear next? Business leaders will doubtless be flatly opposed to such an increase, on the basis that the policy will reduce profits and result in jobs being cut. They will be backed up by a screaming rightwing press. When are we as a society going to recognise that an unbridled market economy does not work in the interests of the vast majority of the people? The economy should be a tool that works in the best interests of us all. At the moment, large numbers of poor, low-paid workers operate as wage-slaves to support an economy which feeds the smug, uncaring, rich elites, who appear to live in an amoral universe, parallel and totally separate from that which most of us inhabit. Labour’s proposal is a small but important step on the long road to establishing a more equitable and fair society.
Steve Walker

• So Ed Miliband is going to increase the minimum wage from £6.31 to £8 by 2020. And Ed Balls is going to cap child benefit so he can “balance the books”. Why? Burn the books! Why not arrest bankers, renationalise the railways and the energy companies instead? What a dreary announcement on the first day of the Labour conference. After the balls and guts of the yes campaign in Scotland, even if you disagreed with them, Labour looks pathetic. Ed Miliband is a nice guy, but he hasn’t a clue.
Peter Woodcock

• I am pleased to hear that Ed Milliband is tackling the minimum-wage problem. Will he please address the employment laws that allow contractors to opt out of European legislation on hours worked. In my area workers are required to work 12-hour shifts sometimes on nights, for 13 days on then one day off. This pattern is repeated for months with an exhausted workforce. This is slave labour, employees are forced to comply because of the low minimum wage.
Marilyn Hall
Gainsborough, Lincolnshire

• Larry Elliott (It’s time to tackle Labour’s double deficit, 22 September) is right to support the Fabian Society’s call for workers on the board of all but the smallest companies. However, if the unions are to have a bigger say, they need some new ideas. For example, increasing worker responsibility for quality control and self-supervision could raise pay and be business friendly at the same time. Rampant collective bargaining brought down Jim Callaghan and gave Margaret Thatcher her chance.
Malcolm Cookson
Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria

• Ed Balls’s promise to cut child benefit in order to prove his seriousness about cutting the budget deficit reminds me of an occasion when the Labour government of the 1960s proposed cuts to the health service to impress Swiss currency speculators. Told of this plan, Michael Foot suggested that it would be even more convincing if Labour MPs were sent into the street to tear down the hospitals with their bare hands. I don’t know if Mr Balls has considered this idea, but I offer it to him as a sure-fire way of proving that he is a committed axe-wielder.
Ian Aitken

• Owen Jones is right to point that under Miliband Labour is in crisis (Journal, 22 September). But his notion of “bankrupt leadership” misses the point. Labour was never meant to be a dictatorship. The party was not intended to be the leader and his gang’s personal property. Before the neoliberals staged their coup and ended internal party democracy, Labour was a social movement. Of their own accord, grassroots supporters fought fascism in Spain, embraced the freedom for Africa movement, boycotted apartheid and fought for gender, class and racial equality. The party stood up to the corrupt powerful, rather than consulted with it. The Labour leadership was honoured with the job of evangelising these values. Since the Blairite coup, the leadership has instead attacked and betrayed its grassroots. Without the genuine democratic representation of the grassroots there is no Labour party. All that is left is a cabal of self-seeking careerists. We should question the fundamental structure of the party, not simply its failing personalities.
Dr Gavin Lewis

• The shadow equalities minister, Gloria de Piero, herself from a working-class background, is to be congratulated on criticising the preponderance of those from public schools in high positions (Policy pledges, 22 September). I hope she will also protest about the increasing number of MPs from the less than 1% of the population who attended Oxbridge and the declining number of working-class Labour MPs. The same report refers to the shadow education secretary, Tristram Hunt (private school and Oxbridge) who was imposed on the Stoke-on-Trent constituency in preference to an able, local, working-class candidate.
Bob Holman

Wherever he finds the money, there is no point Ed Balls trying to save the NHS if he does not also invest in prevention (NHS is Labour’s priority, 20 September). One reason the NHS is getting so expensive is that there are more ill people – obesity and type 2 diabetes are just the tip of an iceberg of preventable disorders. These are not so much lifestyle diseases as life-cycle ones, because the origins of so much chronic illness lie in the earliest stages of life. The best time to reduce it is during pregnancy and the first months of infancy. There is a mass of scientific evidence to show how maternal ill-health has long-term effects on children and thus the degree of so-called lifestyle choices that they can exercise later in their lives. The “transformation fund” proposed by Dr Jennifer Dixon (Letters, 18 September) should be used to combine public and family health in a wraparound physical and mental perinatal service for all; a huge but worthwhile task, which will in due course pay for itself in better population health.
Dr Sebastian Kraemer
Whittington hospital, London

• Professor Hollins (Letters, 18 September) rightly calls for a greater investment in mental health care. However, in saying that mental and physical health problems must be treated with equal importance, he risks giving the impression that the two are fundamentally separate things. As the Mental Health Foundation has pointed out in its 2013 inquiry into integrated care for people with mental health problems, mental and physical health are indivisibly linked through common biological, psychological and social factors. Only when all health and social care staff accept this link will patients, whatever their needs, receive the best holistic care, whatever their primary diagnosis. This would mean, for example, dietary advice and housing support for people with schizophrenia, and psychological support for people with cancer.
Simon Lawton-Smith

I’m disappointed in your hopeless efforts at supporting feminism in fashion (Gucci takes dressing for real life as its Milan theme, 18 September). These are clothes that could never be worn to a day job unless it happened to include visiting Anna Wintour with a fashion plan; could never be worn for real-life shopping, lifting of messy children, or any of the other myriad of practical chores/jobs of most women’s lives. Dear beloved Guardian, you are a Pulitzer prizewinner, please behave like one, and stop putting these fantasy doe-eyed, expressionless girls on your National news pages. If you have to report on fashion shows, please can you put them in the business pages where they belong.
Judy Marsh

Richard Seymour (Bombs are not the answer, 16 September) speaks of a muted sentiment among sections of the left, supporting the US bombing of Isis. I am opposed to a continuing air campaign but I have no objection to bombing Isis in the foothills of Mount Sinjar. Contrary to what Seymour says, the Peshmerga were only able to rescue the Yazidis because of that bombing.

The Yazidis demonstrate how thin the US “humanitarian” pretext was for attacking Isis – it couldn’t wait to abandon them, leaving the most vulnerable stranded. What is true is the hypocrisy of the US, which is revolted by the beheadings of journalists while its ally, Saudi Arabia, is beheading over 20 people per month. Another ally, Egypt, is worse than the Pinochet regime in Chile when it comes to torture and human rights. The evidence suggests that western/Saudi arms supplies to the jihadi groups in Syria are the source of much of Isis’s weaponry.

The solution in the Middle East lies in a tearing down of the whole rotten edifice of regimes and interests that guide US policy – from Saudi Arabia to Israel.

Isis, an openly genocidal group, certainly deserves to be obliterated but only the people of the region can do this. That requires the building of mass movements across the sectarian Shiite/Sunni divide. But there may be a coincidence of interests. Our demands for the withdrawal of the US are not affected in any way by a tactical decision to support bombing as a means of rescue.
Tony Greenstein

• There is one army that can eradicate Isis from Syria and bring stability to the whole country, with the minimum of civilian casualties and the lowest risk of unforeseen consequences. That is the Syrian army and there is no good reason for Obama and Cameron to be preventing them from doing that job.
Brendan O’Brien

• As the UK slides towards another military entanglement in the Middle East, on the coattails of the US, we need the Chilcot report on the lessons of Iraq more than ever (Stop this menace, 15 September). Instead, the coalition are filibustering his report to delay it until the runup to the general election, in an attempt to score cheap political points at the expense of Labour. Chilcot should publish a short interim report with the key recommendations now – with or without government support.
Paul Godier

I read Zoe Williams (22 September) with mixed feelings. I agree that the miners’ defeat crushed the unions and destroyed the mining communities, but I cannot feel sad about the end of mining. Forget about global warming, it was a dirty and dangerous job. I come from a mining family in the west of Scotland. My great-grandfather, my grandfather and my father were all miners. My grandfather went straight to the pits from school at the turn of the 20th century; my father, who left school top of his year, tried hard to get work elsewhere (even going as far as London) before ending up in the mines. In 1943, a mine roof collapsed on him and he became a paraplegic with complications which kept him in hospital for the last 17 years of his life.

A little while later, my brothers and I went to live with my grandparents. My grandfather’s hand was maimed while working coal machinery, he also had scars in his backbone caused by cutting coal in very low tunnels and he was diagnosed with pneumoconiosis. He worked the backshift (2pm-10pm) and every night, as a child, I could not go to sleep until I heard his key open the front door. My grandmother’s determination to keep her grandsons out of the mines resulted in me being the first of my family to go to university and my father was the last to go down the pits. I once asked my grandfather about the General Strike. He said he enjoyed it, because the weather was good and he had a six-month holiday from the pits.
Bill Macinnes
Worthing, West Sussex

Yes, we need more powers to be given to local areas, such as the Greater Manchester city region and, presumably, shire counties (Report, 22 September). So much has been stripped away, which needs to be returned and considerably enhanced. The electorate generally has no appetite for more tiers of bureaucracy, but would welcome far more powers being exercised by current local bodies working together. Alongside the debate about subsidiarity needs to be one about solidarity. In this vastly unequal country, where many people’s lives have been ruined by vicious policies, it is not enough for us to neatly divide up the country in ways which make sure we get what we want for our particular neck of the woods, without regard to how the most vulnerable might fare in other places. So we need plenty of time for discussion about how to balance subsidiarity and solidarity, and how to come to a constitutional arrangement where common values and the protection of the vulnerable can be agreed upon and safeguarded across the whole UK.
Gabrielle Cox

• John Redwood (Comment, 20 September) correctly points out that directly elected regional government in England has proved unpopular. Why directly elected? The last time the issue of provincial councils was looked at seriously was by the Royal Commission on Local Government in England. In its 1969 report, the commission proposed eight such councils and made it clear that there was no reason for these to be directly elected. Local authorities within the provincial areas would simply appoint representatives to serve on the council. The powers of the provincial council would have to be determined by parliament, but would certainly have to include some right to tax and to borrow within agreed limits.
Peter Newsam
Thornton Dale, North Yorkshire

• John Redwood suggests holding a devolved English parliament at Westminister when the UK parliament is not in session. That seems unwieldy for all sorts of reasons, but I guess he doesn’t want to spend taxpayers’ money on a new building. Why not recycle the House of Lords? Then everyone’s a winner.
Jim Steel

Your coverage of the global climate change protests (News, 22 September) was much appreciated but when are you going to challenge the lifestyle choices that contribute to the problem? You might start by stating the tonnes of carbon dioxide emitted by each holiday in the Travel section.
Mark Hancock

• As an ex-NHS-worker, I can assure you there is no need for a strike to be effective to show the importance of its staff (News, 19 September). A simple work to rule will bring it to its knees, such is the hard work and dedication of NHS staff – at all levels – who routinely “go that extra (unpaid) mile” for patients.

Debbie Cameron

• Hilary Mantel was not alone in having fantasies about assassinating Margaret Thatcher (‘I thought, if I was someone else, she’d be dead’, 20 September). My mother was a peaceable and generous woman but in her 80s during the Thatcher years, she regularly denounced the young men of Britain for lacking the backbone to go out and “kill that woman”, ending with “If I had a gun, I’d do it myself”.
Professor Robert Moore

Holywell, Flintshire

• To complete Tim Dowling’s lively piece on U and non-U speech (G2, 22 September), you couldn’t do better than quote John Betjeman’s poem How to Get On in Society. From its opening line – “Phone for the fish knives, Norman” – to the closing couplet – “Beg pardon, I’m soiling the doileys with afternoon teacakes and scones” – every word is loaded. Wonderful snobbish stuff.
Ella Holmes

Burton-in-Lonsdale, North Yorkshire

• Amid the talk of a new constitutional settlement I fear that I must have missed something. I see the Guardian now includes stories from the US (Hormones and high prose: Kerouac’s teenage letters, 19 September) under the banner “National”.
Colin Thunhurst
Keighley, West Yorkshire



Care homes will willingly pay staff more than £8 an hour — if local authorities do their bit too

Sir, You report that Labour is planning to raise the minimum wage to £8 an hour (Sept 20). As a director of a company that operates 17 care and nursing homes across England, I would love to be able pay our staff more — but the problem is that local authorities in England are significantly underfunding elderly residential care placements.

The healthcare analyst Laing & Buisson has calculated the “fair cost” of a place in a residential care home at £600 a week. Local authorities are currently paying between 60 and 70 per cent of this figure, which they claim is the maximum they can afford. Meeting the “fair cost” price would increase local authority spending by about £3 billion a year when home care is included.

If Ed Miliband commits to all local authorities paying £600 a week for residential care, I will happily sign the pledge to pay all care staff at least £8 per hour. Unfortunately, as he hasn’t got a spare £3 billion to fund this, I suspect I will be waiting a long time.

Geoff Lane

Director, Regal Care Trading

The Arts Council is investing £250 million over four years in music hubs — a significant initiative

Sir, It’s heartening to see Richard Morrison (Sept 19) urging our political parties to make young people’s access to arts and culture a priority. I plead guilty to “banging on”, as he puts it, about local partnerships between universities, business and cultural organisations because I’m worried by the pressure on local authority funding of the arts. We need alternatives. And the music hubs, which Morrison seems somewhat dismissive of, represent an investment of £250 million over four years. It’s early days but this is a significant initiative.

He also argued that lottery cash is distributed unevenly. Yes and no: London did receive more than its fair share in the first 15 years, something we’re addressing. But quoting crude per capita distribution figures is at odds with the principle for deployment of lottery funds. It was always meant to be invested in a focused number of worthwhile projects. To the Sage in Gateshead he could have added the Lowry in Salford, the Hepworth in Wakefield, the Nottingham Contemporary and many more.

Sir Peter Bazalgette

Chairman, Arts Council England

Bob Dylan said his songs “were about three minutes”. What, exactly, was he trying to say?

Sir, Dr John Doherty (letter, Sept 22) recalls the interview in which Bob Dylan responded to the question asking what his songs were about by saying that they were all about three minutes. Rather than being an admission that his songs did not mean much, this was Dylan’s way of pointing out the inanity of the question. In fact Dylan never interpreted his own songs. To him it would have been the same as a comedian explaining why his jokes were funny.

Jan Zajac

West Milton, Dorset

Some of the greatest minds in history have suffered from this painful condition

Sir, As a sufferer from gout (letters, Sept 20), I take comfort from the fact that I am in the company of three of my great heroes: Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo Galilei and John Milton.

Tony Phillips

Chalfont St Giles, Bucks

A simplistic ‘left-right’ perspective fails to identify the real problem facing Judaism in Britain: that of disaffiliation

Sir, Your report (Sept 22) on the challenges facing the Jewish community misses a crucial point. Research by the United Synagogue demonstrates that a simplistic “left-right” perspective fails to identify the real problem: that of disaffiliation.

The Institute for Jewish Policy Research’s data shows that while the percentage movement in both directions between Orthodox communities and Progressive communities is very similar (between 9 and 11 per cent), far higher numbers of Jews are disaffiliating from religious communal life altogether, and describe themselves as being “just Jewish” or “secular/cultural” Jews. The rate of this disaffiliation is almost twice as high among those who had a Reform or Progressive upbringing (37 per cent) compared with those who had an Orthodox upbringing (20 per cent).

The good news is that this trend is being addressed; the United Synagogue’s investment in youth provision, for example, has led to a dramatic rise in young membership. The Chief Rabbi has called upon the Jewish community to “transform our synagogues into powerhouses of Jewish religious, educational and cultural experience”; we are doing so.

Stephen Pack

President, United Synagogue


Harvesting hops in Kent: what fraction of the price of a pint goes to the farmer?  Photo: Alamy

6:58AM BST 22 Sep 2014


SIR – Barry Max Wills highlights how over-priced a cup of coffee is (Letters, September 19).

Next time you are sitting – if you can afford it – in a pub with a pint in your hand, consider the negligable fraction of the price retained by your host, the licensee and the low price for which the brewers brew and sell it.

Consider, too, the vast “on cost” despite which the “pubcos” in the middle amazingly still claim to be unable to produce a profit.

Kevin Henley
The White Lion
Crewe, Cheshire

SIR – A pot of tea in a cafe starts at about 80p, but often is more than double that amount; hotels often charge the extortionate price of £3.50. When one can buy a good teabag for half a penny, where do the added charges come from?

Ron Kirby

A&E departments in two London hospitals closed earlier this month Photo: PA

6:59AM BST 22 Sep 2014


SIR – The death of a patient waiting in a queue of 15 ambulances outside an A&E department (report, September 19) reflects a crisis in Britain’s medical services which has been developing over many years.

Since its inception in 1948, the NHS has been closing hospitals and A&E departments, reducing beds from 11 per thousand of population in 1948 to 2.6 in 2012-13. In comparison, the European average is 5.3.

This month, two major London A&E departments – at the Hammersmith and Central Middlesex hospitals – were closed.

When I was the A&E registrar at the Central Middlesex in the Seventies, I frequently had to close the department to ambulances owing to the queues of patients waiting for attention. Conditions today can only be worse.

But the lack of beds is not the only threat to patient safety; increasing closures mean that junior doctors have fewer places to train in acute medicine and surgery, which A&E departments uniquely provide.

Max Gammon

London SE16

SIR – My wife and I are just two of 10,400 patients in my local GP surgery, and have been happy with the service.

But all five of the partners in the surgery have just tendered their resignations from the NHS, with effect from January 2015.

What are we to make of this mutiny in the NHS?

Peter Davies
Reading, Berkshire


SIR – I currently am enjoying a paperback that my father bought in 1959 for 2 shillings and 6 pence.

Admittedly, it is rather dog-eared, but it is almost certainly a lot better than a 55-year-old Kindle will be in 2069.

Clive Pilley
Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex

Bring home the bacon

SIR – I have always understood that bacon is a cured meat that will last a few months. Lately, no matter which supermarket I purchase bacon from, it has on the packet: “Once open consume within two days.”

I really cannot eat eight rashers of streaky two breakfasts running, and do not wish to freeze it.

Must I give up bacon?

Alan Self
Crowborough, East Sussex

EU crime risks

SIR – One of the dire warnings given by Europhiles is that, should Britain leave the European Union, we would endanger the cooperation between police forces and border agencies of all of our European partners.

However, the example of the convicted Latvian murderer being sought in connection with the disappearance of Alice Gross suggests that being a member of the EU could, in fact, be a hindrance to safety.

You report (September 19) that the Latvian authorities said “that they were under no obligation to forewarn Britain about [Arnis] Zalkalns’s conviction”.

It appears that the EU’s policy of “freedom of movement of peoples” is being exploited by authorities in certain countries to lose track conveniently of some undesirable citizens.

Why else would a murderer sentenced to 12 years in prison, but released after seven, not be closely monitored for five years, at least, after release?

Marc Versloot
London SW18

Happy commuters

SIR – A new study by Norwich Medical School has found that walking, cycling and taking the bus increase happiness levels. Driving to work, however, causes boredom, social isolation and stress, and reduces workers’ ability to concentrate.

Londoners like taking the bus. Between 1999 and 2013, the number of bus passenger trips in London rose 64 per cent, from 1.4 to 2.3 billion. A bus trip provides an opportunity to read, catch up on social media, write work emails or call a friend.

Londoners also love to cycle. In the morning peak, up to 64 per cent of vehicles on some main roads are now bikes.

It would be a joy to reward commuters in the rest of the country with a world-class bus network and Dutch-style cycle infrastructure.

Darren Johnson (Green)
Member of the London Assembly
London SE1

Hot autumn offers

SIR – I, too, have wondered about lightweight and flexible ladies” shoes (Letters, September 19).

That sort of ladies probably buy “white boys’ shirts” for their children and “luxury autumn duvets” for their beds.

R M Daughton

The classical factor: bring real music to schools

SIR – You report (X Factor pupils put drums ahead of violins”, September 15) that rising numbers of pupils are shifting away from the violin, flute and recorder in favour of the electric guitar due to the influence of reality television programmes.

Pop music is like football: it presents children with the possibility of a fast way out of their daily reality, to stardom and wealth.

Given the high-profile exposure of pop music through all kinds of media, and the unfortunate categorisation of more serious music as an exclusively middle-class pleasure, it is small wonder the balance has shifted.

Every child has the right to experience the beauty of classical music first-hand.

Sue Freestone
Principal, King’s Ely School
Ely, Cambridgeshire

SIR – Michael Henderson highlights (Sad decline of our musical youth”, Comment, September 20) the parlous state of music in state schools.

James Rhodes, the classical pianist, also deserves praise for his efforts to address this problem recently in his documentary “Don’t Stop The Music” on Channel 4.

However, nothing will change fundamentally until we restor the system – which once existed in counties across Britain – that nurtures and develops children’s musical ability for the duration of their time in school. Unfortunately, this requires proper funding, with well-qualified, properly paid teachers.

Successive governments have encouraged instead a model which relies on a series of models which include cheap, trendy, short-term ideas that lead nowhere.

Robert Parker

In the enthusiasm for devolution, it is time to simplify bureaucracy, not add to it. Photo: Getty Images

7:00AM BST 22 Sep 2014


SIR – I am concerned at the frenetic post-referendum drive for devolution of powers to regional assemblies and even cities.

In my few square metres of England, I currently am represented at a parish council, a city council, a county council, a myriad of quangos, the two houses at Westminster, and the European parliament.

All of these bodies come with their attendant bureaucracies, committees and sub-committees. Some have affiliated, unelected, hangers on, paid for by the electorate.

I feel very well represented and expensively over-managed and governed from grass roots to continental level. I will be able to struggle by without another group, which will no doubt regularly need to go to Australia or America to see “best practice” in action.

I hear the sound carriages being coupled to the gravy train Some of these bodies must go in the shake-up.

Alan Love
Chelmsford, Essex

SIR – There doesn’t need to be a two-tiered system of MPs sitting in Parliament in order to debate and make decisions on English and British matters.

Devolve appropriate powers to cities and town councils that would make sense within their local context, thus freeing up time in Parliament for national matters.

There is passionate desire to have a balancing of the powers and a long-overdue overhaul of the voting system on purely English matters. Politicians should set out proposals to put before the electorate in May 2015 and let us decide.

Valerie Gatward
Pulborough, West Sussex

SIR – I agree with Jim O’Neill (Business Comment, September 20) that we need to devolve far more decision making to the regions.

He makes no mention of Birmingham and the West Midlands. This region is the second most populous region after London. Birmingham is also at the forefront of the revival in manufacturing – just look at the expansion of Land Rover and Jaguar – not to mention the fact that Birmingham has the highest number of start-up businesses outside London.

Why is one of our great cities relegated to the second division? It is time we took this city as seriously as the Chinese do.

Stephen Message

SIR – Subject, of course, to Nick Clegg’s blessing, would not this be an opportunity to review the constituency boundaries?

Stephen Hitch
Ermington, Devon

SIR – One of the reasons for disillusion with Parliament is that many electors’ votes are futile in constituencies with an overwhelming majority for one party. In my rural constituency, any vote other than Conservative is pointless.

The best answer is true proportional representation, where parliamentary power reflects the votes of the people.

The argument against this is that it can be difficult to maintain the link between constituency and MP. One solution would be larger constituencies with, say, five MPs, enabling a mixture of representatives to be elected.

Stanley Morris
Somerton, Oxfordshire

SIR – Drew Brooke-Mellors asks (Letters, September 20): “How can we motivate 84 per cent of voters to turn out at the general election?”

Surely the important thing is that everyone has a right to vote, not that they exercise that right. Better that they don’t vote at all than they vote aimlessly because they have been told that they should.

Jerry Hibbert
Lechlade, Gloucestershire

SIR – At the next election, should I vote for what is best for me, or my community, or England, or the United Kingdom, or Europe, or the world?

William Jupe

Irish Times:

Sir, – Alex Salmond didn’t win. But he did make a difference. – Yours, etc,




Sir, – David Cameron, promising all sorts of goodies to Scotland, and to Wales, England and Northern Ireland as well, might do well to heed the alleged advice of Sean Lemass to a new TD: “Never, ever make a promise you cannot break!” – Yours, etc,


College Road,


Sir, – The pathetic performance of Gordon Brown in the referendum on independence reminded one of nothing less than our own version, John Redmond. Both men based their pleadings on the promises of the English establishment, commitments designed to undermine the clamour for freedom and never to be fulfilled. It will be interesting to see how “devo-max” will be delivered, if ever, going on past experiences. Of course we will always have another one of London’s favourite strategies to use if necessary. Partition! It worked in Ireland, India, and elsewhere. – Yours, etc,



Co Cavan.

Sir, – The Scottish referendum was an astonishing waste of time and money, not to mention hours of meaningless media commentary and irrelevant column inches. With estimates of up to £50 million for this diversion, both sides should be ashamed of themselves for advancing a fake “issue” when all that was at stake was the branding of Scotland. The lives of disadvantaged families and children from Thurso to Dumfries would not have been affected one iota by either a Yes or No result.

We’ve all been Europeans for years now, and our destiny is linked to developments on mainland Europe, not what some remote outposts with minuscule populations want.

And don’t get me going on our ridiculous banking inquiry! – Yours, etc,


Scholarstown Road,

Knocklyon, Dublin 16.

Sir, – One very positive result of Scotland’s referendum decision is that the sizeable body of Anglophobic opinion in this country was not given an opportunity to dip its collective pen into the usual old poison and gloat, ad nauseam, over the break up of the UK. For this, dear Scotland, many thanks. – Yours, etc,




Co Wicklow.

Sir, – A new day of note on the Scottish calendar – Dependence Day, September 18th. – Yours, etc,


Glendale Park,

Dublin 12.

Sir, – Scotland has given Europe and the world an example in democracy. It has shown that it is entirely possible to resolve the always thorny issue of independence through the ballot box. By and large, the debate was conducted in a civil manner, with both sides defending their views. David Cameron and Alex Salmond have reminded us all of the virtues of the democratic process. That in itself is the great triumph of what we witnessed this week in Scotland.

By way of contrast, the government in Madrid refuses to acknowledge the demands of a vast majority of the citizens of Catalonia to hold a similar vote. This desire has been repeatedly expressed in a peaceful but clear manner by the citizens of Catalonia. On September 11th, only a few days ago, 1.8 million people marched down the streets of Barcelona demanding the right to vote. This follows on from similarly large demonstrations over the last number of years.

The Spanish government hides behind an outdated constitution drafted in 1978 under the careful watch of the military, only three years after Gen Franco’s death. Some 80 per cent of over-18s in Catalonia did not vote for that constitution.

The Catalan parliament passed a Bill last Friday that will allow for a non-binding referendum on Catalan independence to take place on November 9th.

For many people around the world, an independent Scotland is no more an inconceivable notion than that of an independent Catalonia. – Yours, etc,





Abbey Drive,

Navan Road,

Dublin 7.

Sir, – In the past fortnight, leadership figures in both Fine Gael and Labour have used the impasse in Stormont over welfare reform as a stick to beat Sinn Féin (“SF control of economy like handing keys back to troika, says Burton”, September 15th).

Not only are Charlie Flanagan and Joan Burton declaiming from positions of ignorance on the policy matter, they are undermining the functioning the NI Assembly in order to score points in Leinster House.

I was alarmed to hear the leader of the Irish Labour Party accept the spin of the Tories and their enablers that those opposed to welfare reform in the UK “seem relentlessly opposed to any measures to help people back to work”.

The trade union movement in Northern Ireland has been relentlessly opposed to these these flawed and vindictive proposals, especially since their disastrous enforcement in England, Wales and Scotland. We have led a major civil society campaign highlighting the injustice and unworkablility of the Tory vision of the welfare state. Alongside allies in the churches, academia, and the community and voluntary sectors, we have lobbied, leafleted, picketed and protested at these pernicious “reforms” – at least some of which will be abandoned after next year’s general election, unless the Conservatives pull off a most surprising win in the current political environment.

Every political party in Stormont has been on the receiving end of our campaign work, which has resulted in support from Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the Green Party and individual MLAs from the UUP and DUP.

The ICTU in Northern Ireland has never supported any particular political party. Trade unions that support working people are relentlessly opposed to policies that affect and afflict the working poor. That is our function.

It is a sad day when our work is undermined by politicians in the Republic of Ireland desperate for a cheap soundbite. – Yours, etc,


Assistant General Secretary,

Irish Congress

of Trade Unions,

Northern Ireland,

Carlin House,

Donegall Street Place,


Sir, – John McManus, discussing the fish farm proposals being promoted by Bord Iascaigh Mhara, notes that many politicians are withholding their support for the proposed projects (“Fish farms a breeding ground for tensions over job creation”, Business Opinion, September 15th).

In reality, there’s no mystery behind the growing scepticism of plans for large-scale fish farms. Recent studies have shown that farmed salmon has more than twice the fat content of a typical pizza (some 14g of fat per 100g compared to 6.4g for a pizza margherita, with the corresponding figure for wild salmon standing at 3.2g per 100g). It’s not a product that can sustainably be marketed as healthy. Farmed salmon have a high fat content because, cooped up in cages, these fish get little exercise. The fish cages, which are tethered to the sea bed, become breeding grounds for lice, leading salmon-farm owners to douse the cages with chemicals to try and abate the problem. But drenching with chemicals has its own ill-effects and concerns over the level of toxins found in farmed salmon are increasing.

Caged fish are typically fed by dropping feed from overhead. Sadly, this makes for an easy meal for wild fish – and so they can congregate around the cages. But, as mentioned, the fish cages harbour high concentrations of lice. And, while the exact level of impact continues to be debated, it is no longer disputed that the presence of fish cages leads to higher levels of lice infestation among wild fish.

And so, for the most part, politicians are being convinced by one straightforward argument – there are more salaries at stake in Ireland’s pre-existing fishing and angling tourism sectors than stand to be created by the proposed fish farms, with the case made here in Ireland borne out by the experience in Canada. In short, it’s coming down to simple economics. – Yours, etc,


Policy Director,

An Taisce,

Tailors’ Hall,


Dublin 8.

Tue, Sep 23, 2014, 01:07

First published: Tue, Sep 23, 2014, 01:07

Sir, – I attended the Reform Group seminar on September 18th on the passage of the Government of Ireland Act, 1914.

Some have put forward the proposition that the British government was never serious about granting home rule to Ireland. I think that I can ascertain the necessity for this line of argument – it’s all to do with an uneasiness about the legitimacy of the Easter Rebellion.

John Bruton raised the inconvenient truth that the Rising – led and fought overwhelmingly by people whose morality was set by reference to Roman Catholicism – did not satisfy the conditions necessary for a “just war”. While it may, possibly, have been defined as a “just cause” and of “right intention”, it was certainly not authorised by a “competent authority”, nor was it a “last resort”.

It is doubtful if the harm done (hundreds dead, the centre of Dublin devastated) was proportionate to its prospects of success (it had none).

In that context, the apologists for the Rising adopt two lines of reasoning to get around the problem. The first is to assert that the whole home rule business was a chimera, a mirage, that would never become a reality. Only armed rebellion would deliver “freedom”. That was not the perception of the vast mass of the Irish people in 1916; it would have negated what the entire leadership and followers of the Irish Parliamentary Party, from Parnell to Redmond, had stood for.

The second line of defence is that of “post-event justification”.

This reads history backwards, using the 1918 election results to validate retrospectively the 1916 rebellion.

It is exactly the sort of dangerous illogicality that has allowed the Provisional IRA and Sinn Féin to justify their murderous campaign between 1968 and 1998. The end, in other words, always justifies the means. I am sure that your readers can see where that can lead.

I also got the sense at the seminar that Mr Bruton had a real grasp of the human tragedies that lie behind the Rising and the wars of 1919-23.

Prof Ronan Fanning suggested that, in the context of the Great War then raging, the fatalities of the Rising were “a drop in the ocean”.

Mr Bruton pointed out that this was a false comparison; the Rising’s casualties were additional; and, in his view, unnecessary. No death is “a drop in the ocean”; each left parents, children, lovers, siblings and friends bereft. Whatever about the military men and rebels, no-one asked those civilians who died whether they were happy to do so for Ireland.

Finally, it was also pointed out that the 1916 rebels’ appeal to “our gallant allies in Europe” in the Proclamation was utterly counterproductive, since it ensured that the Irish separatist case was ignored at the Versailles peace conference. The British, the French and the Americans were not going to treat with people who had openly sided with those posing an existential threat to their states. – Yours, etc,


Rathasker Heights,

Naas, Co Kildare.

Sir, – I am driven to wonder what John Bruton hopes to achieve by his repetition of the thesis that Ireland would have done better if the violent events of 1916 to 1922 had not occurred.

Leaving aside his limited view of the Irish side of the equation – noble-hearted John Redmond gently leading us all across Jordan to a rather inadequate land promised, tardily and reluctantly, by London – it is his perception of the Britain of the period that surely calls for remark.

The British Empire had no experience of or inclination towards letting bits go. Eventually fortified by victory in the Great War, it tended to be pugnacious in the defence of its God-given dominion over palm and pine. Hence also in 1916 the response had been solely military, including the inevitable gunboat, and the drumhead dispatch of the leaders and signatories. That reaction was not a British policy mistake; it was entirely consistent with the British approach to native trouble wherever it arose.

To suggest that by mere acceptance of the Home Rule Act, we might have avoided revolution and the independence struggle, or negotiated better terms leading to separation (the essential aim of the Irish majority over the centuries) is unprofitable speculation, lacking even amusement value.

Reference to current events in Scotland, which has been made, brings sharply to view how very different today’s PC and welfare state Britain has become, with its enormous national debt and rather fewer gunboats to its name. The Scottish nationalists have it easy. – Yours, etc,


Silchester Road,

Glenageary, Co Dublin.

Sir, – Last Wednesday a relative was taken by ambulance to Tallaght hospital A&E unwell and in a distressed condition.

A total of 33 hours later a bed became free and he was admitted. He spent almost half that period lying on a trolley in the hallway of the busy A&E department while the clearly overworked staff did their best to attend to patients.

I’d be surprised if this intolerable situation was not replicated in other underfunded and understaffed hospitals across the country.

At the same as this deplorable state of affairs continues, the Government is hinting at tax cuts in the upcoming budget, a vote-grabbing stroke if ever there was one.

The leopard clearly hasn’t changed its spots, despite protestations from the political class that auction politics is a thing of the past. – Yours, etc,


Lansdowne Park,

Templeogue, Dublin 16.

Sir, – Coming on the heels of data privacy concerns, the furore over the distribution of a U2 album offers a revealing insight into competing approaches of cloud computing – personal consent versus corporate creepiness.

It would seem that the keeping of naked selfies on an individual’s device is fine, but the pushing of music onto the same device is not.

Perish the thought that Apple and the Rolling Stones might ever enter a deal to republish Get Off of My Cloud. – Yours, etc,


South Circular Road,

Dublin 8.

Sir, – I hope the recent EuroMillions winner takes his or her time to collect the €86.7 million jackpot. The longer the winner takes to claim the money, the more outlandish the rumours.

I had a phone call yesterday from a friend letting me know that he had heard that I had won. I didn’t deny or confirm the rumour. – Yours, etc,


Mill Street,


Co Mayo.

A chara, – It struck me as curious that Donald Clarke’s article decrying a general ignorance of basic scientific principles among those who would consider themselves well educated (“Scientists are respected in theory while artists are celebrated in practice”, Opinion and Analysis, September 20th) was tagged under “Religion and Beliefs”, in the online edition at least. An editorial slip? Or a sly nod towards the notion that for some science has taken the place of faith? – Is mise,



Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – I would like to thank all those involved in establishing the Woodenbridge World War One Memorial Park (“Woodenbridge park to mark Wicklow dead of first World War”, September 18th). A hundred years ago John Redmond urged Irishmen to go “wherever the firing line extends in defence of right, of freedom and religion in this war”. My great-uncles, Edward and George Kearon, answered Redmond’s call, and died together at sea on November 10th, 1917, aged only 17 and 19.

For far too long, all these forgotten heroes of Co Wicklow went unremembered, but this park remedies that wrong. – Yours, etc,


Ballinacarrig Lower,

Ballinaclash, Co Wicklow.

Irish Independent:

If Sunday’s fare in Croke Park is a forerunner of what we can expect in next year’s All-Ireland football final then I can only suggest there will be no shortage of tickets for anyone.

I feel truly sorry for all players who played in this year’s final. They were confined to orders not to express their skills and talents, which I have no doubt they have in abundance. However, it appears there is now a law of win-at-all-costs. It doesn’t matters if what they serve up to their loyal fans is boring and a step nearer to what is played in the soccer world.

The song about building a wall around Donegal almost happened on the pitch on Sunday. All we were short of was the blocks and mortar in the middle of the pitch so that each team could kick the ball over the wall at selected intervals.

It’s sad when the only exciting memory of this fiasco of a final was the unfortunate mistake made by the Donegal goalkeeper which allowed the Kerry forward a free shot into the net.

GAA fans deserve better than this – and county boards better wake up and instruct their managers that the game is meant to be played for the enjoyment of the fans. If this kind of football continues it wont be long before people think twice about paying for something they can do at home for free – and that is to fall asleep.

Fred Molloy, Dublin 15

Paisley a man of contrasts

Tributes to Ian Paisley have tended to define him in terms of numerous deliberately-ambiguous characteristics. These are driven by the Irish injunction not to speak ill of the dead.

For instance, the claim that Paisley was a man of conviction implies that this was a virtue. To have unmovable conviction is often an indication of pathological inability to see beyond one’s own beliefs.

Ian Paisley was determined to keep the Catholics at bay, colluding in depriving them of basic rights, particularly equality of treatment.

He was steadfast in his determination to have no truck with Irish nationalists, particularly the IRA.

His thunderous rabble rousing declaration, “Never! Never! Never” was chilling in the determination to perpetuate the injustices that defined life for so many in the North.

Paisley was the chief influence in sustaining the radical antipathy between the Protestant and Catholic communities.

It was his determination not to budge one inch from the Protestant supremacy in the North that eventually led to the violence that marked the life of the region for years.

Attempts to bring together the warring parties were frustrated by each side desiring to fire the last shot. There seemed to be no hope of mutual forgiveness of the wrongs of the past.

Shakespeare’s Mark Anthony said: “The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones”, but the good that Ian Paisley did will live after him; in the end, he saw that if we want closure on the dark history of the North we have to be prepared to forgive and seek reconciliation with those we have learned to despise.

It is a strange irony that Ian Paisley showed us that way; like his God, he worked in mysterious ways.

Philip O’Neill, Oxford, England

Time to help out the poor

To tax or not to tax!

Average citizens don’t fully understand the tax system. I know that from long experience.

Between direct tax on wages and indirect tax example vat, surcharges, fuel excises, and tax on new homes Ireland collected over €37 billion in 2013.

Dr Michael Collins, senior researcher with the Nevin Institute, has completed a comprehensive study of the tax system in Ireland by gathering and analysing information from regular household surveys, CSO figures and data from the Department of Finance. His key findings were that people on middle income pay the least amount of tax while those on the bottom and top income pay the most tax.

Startling as it may seem our direct income tax is progressive, while our indirect is regressive.

Politicians are trying to make a case for tax relief for the “squeezed middle” earners. This is a myth. Citizens on low income need tax relief and waivers if society is not to pick up the tab further down the line in the shape of homeless, poverty, and illness.

Many on low income have slipped into poverty in the last six years, they are struggling to maintain some semblance of pride and dignity while trying to eat regularly and keep the bills paid. There are other, better ways of collecting tax.

Tax is critical for the operation of a democratic civil society. Ireland’s leaders need to ensure the poor do not suffer by indirect tax.

Dermot Hayes, Ennis, County Clare

Wanted: billionaires

Who wants to be a billionaire? It’s the most lucrative position in the world, with just three recorded in Ireland – though I’m of the opinion I could name five off the cuff!

The number of billionaires around the world in 2014 remains static since last year at 2,325 – surely a rare species! Europe is the place to be if you’re one of this select group, according to a new report carried out by Wealth X and UBS (Irish Independent September 19).

More billionaires – 775 – live in Europe than any other continent on Earth; most of them reside in the UK and Germany. North America is the second-most popular continent, with 609. Their total global wealth is $7,291 trillion.

It was also of note in the report that the fastest-growing segment of the billionaire fraternity – in terms of wealth and source – are those who inherited only part of their fortune and became billionaires through their own entrepreneurial endeavours.

Most of the fortunes were made in finance, banking and investment. This professional species are thin on the ground here, leaving endless opportunities for bright young Irish sparks of the future. In the process, they would create a real employment boom.

James Gleeson, Thurles, Co Tipperary

Health service is ailing

Last Wednesday my brother-in-law was taken by ambulance to Tallaght Hospital A&E unwell and in a distressed condition.

Thirty-three hours later a bed became free and he was admitted.

He spent almost half that period lying on a trolley in the hallway of the busy A&E department while the clearly over-worked staff did their best to attend to patients.

I’d be surprised if the intolerable situation is not replicated in other under-funded and under-staffed hospitals across the country.

At the same time as this deplorable state of affairs continues the Government is hinting at tax cuts in the upcoming Budget – a vote-grabbing stroke if ever there was one.

The leopard clearly hasn’t changed its spots, despite protestations from the political class that auction politics are a thing of the past. Finance Minister Michael Noonan would better serve the country if he forsook the tax cuts bribe and put any money he has to spare into the desperately-needy hospital front-line services and provide beds for sick.

Frank Khan, Templeogue. Dublin 16

Irish Independent


September 22, 2014

22 September 2014 Boredom

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A damp quiet day we are bored but too tired to do anything about it

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight up rabbit for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.


Rivers Scott – obituary

Rivers Scott was a literary editor, diarist and agent who pruned the prose of Britain’s authors

Rivers Scott

Rivers Scott

6:38PM BST 21 Sep 2014


Rivers Scott, who has died aged 92, was the most experienced literary editor in London during the 1960s and 1970s, working for The Sunday Telegraph, Now magazine, the Mail on Sunday and The Tablet.

Starting as deputy to Anthony Curtis on The Sunday Telegraph’s books page, he reviewed travel books, war memoirs and novels and was highly valued for his skilful cutting of copy from a talented stable of reviewers, who included the Malta-based critic and novelist Nigel Dennis, the poet Kathleen Raine and the comic writer Arthur Marshall. In addition there was the formidable Dame Rebecca West, who succumbed to Scott’s charm over the phone as he cut her back to 1,000 words. On one occasion a lead review of the collected poems of CP Cavafy prompted a complaint from management that poetry was never again to be given such prominence. When Scott remonstrated, another memo repeated the prohibition, adding: “What is worse, it was a Greek.”

The son of a stockbroker, Francis Geoffrey Riversdale Winstone Scott was born on December 12 1921. At Eton he started a film society which made a feature about a day in the life an Etonian.

He then went up to Trinity College, Cambridge, to read History. Commissioned in the 17th 21st Lancers, following the outbreak of the Second World War, he was captured in his first significant action, at the Kasserine Pass in Tunisia, after rescuing a gunner from a blazing tank. He was sent to a camp outside Naples, from which he was released after seven months by the Italian commandant.

With a colleague he then spent three months on the run, sleeping in barns and learning to speak Italian from peasants who gave them shelter when Germans forces came close. After reaching Switzerland, Scott was appointed interpreter to an Australian transport officer, then became ADC to General “Monkey” Morgan at Caserta. After the war Scott learned French in Paris and ran a schools’ magazine in English and French for three years, then joined the Times Education Supplement, reporting on school and university drama at the Festival of Britain.

Taken on by The Daily Telegraph he arrived for his first day on the Peterborough diary wearing a trilby, only for Harry Dickens, great-grandson of the novelist, to take him aside: “On this column we wear bowler hats.” Scott claimed to have been an indifferent reporter, but he fitted the classic model of a diary journalist, being well-bred, likeable, high-spirited, and with a mischievous streak; his brother John was to become the paper’s racing columnist “Hotspur”.

Although never particularly ambitious, Scott found he greatly enjoyed being in charge when he was unexpectedly elevated to the position of literary editor in 1962. After four years he left to run the non-fiction list at Hodder, but soon moved to Now magazine for double the salary ; two years later Goldsmith suddenly announced Now’s closure.

Scott was next asked to join the new Mail on Sunday, an experience he did not enjoy, though he had time to edit a volume of John Donne’s prose for the Folio Society. After 18 months he found himself the only original section editor still in post. A convert to Roman Catholicism, he then became literary adviser to The Tablet, whose reviews he raised to an unsurpassed standard .

By 1981 Scott had had enough of journalism, and started up a literary agency with Gloria Ferris, demonstrating a flair for editing, then selling, unusual manuscripts to a wide variety of publishers for such authors as the polar biographer, Roland Huntford, the film encyclopedist Leslie Halliwell, the historian Trevor Royle, the Tory Attorney General Peter Rawlinson as well as Ned Sherrin and the runner Steve Ovett.

Rivers Scott married, in 1950, Christina Dawson, daughter of the historian Christopher Dawson. She died in 2001, and he is survived by their five sons.

Rivers Scott, born December 12 1921, died May 22 2014


Brighton joins in the National Day of Action to say No to TTIP Anti-TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) protest, Brighton, July 2014. Photograph: Kate Nye/Corbis

Owen Jones (This trade deal puts private profit above people’s needs, 15 September) is an intelligent political and social commentator, not a one-man campaigning NGO. So he must know that investment protection treaties don’t allow multinationals “to sue sovereign governments … on the grounds that their profits are threatened”. And he must certainly know that, as with any lawsuit, the fact that Philip Morris has brought proceedings against Australia over the plain packaging regulations doesn’t mean that either side has won this highly contentious case before judgment has been given.

What investment treaties typically do is offer investors (in either direction) reciprocal guarantees of basic principles such as fair and equitable treatment, protection and security, non-discrimination both generally and by comparison with local investors, and against expropriation without compensation (also guaranteed by the European convention on human rights).

Writing as one of those “so-called” arbitrators Owen Jones refers to, I’ve been prompted to do something I’d never thought of doing before: draw up a balance sheet of all the arbitration tribunals on which I’ve sat. It seems that in seven cases we decided for the investor, and in nine cases for the government. All of these decisions bar two were unanimous (ie including the arbitrator nominated by the investor or, as the case may be, the government); and in one case, although we found some breaches of the guarantees described above, we awarded no compensation because the investor failed to prove any loss, and in another the investor apparently found the amount of compensation we awarded so modest that it chose not to contest a subsequent attempt to upset our ruling.

There are many weighty arguments against the TTIP, as there are in its favour. But they deserve to be debated on their objective merits, not by mythological scaremongering.
Frank Berman QC
Essex Court Chambers, London

• Congratulations on Owen Jones’s article highlighting the threat that the proposed EU-US free-trade deal known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership presents to our sovereignty – not to mention our standards of workers’ rights, environmental standards and food safety rules.

As he rightly says, it is astonishing that the Tories and Ukip, which claim to be gravely concerned about British sovereignty, have only positive things to say about TTIP. Even more surprising perhaps that Labour and the Liberal Democrats do likewise. Indeed Menzies Campbell defended the secrecy of the negotiations when discussing them with me on the BBC2’s The Daily Politics, saying the public should know nothing until they are “eventually presented with a package”.

The lack of general media attention and examination of TTIP has been a matter of grave concern to Green parties, which in the UK and across Europe are at the forefront of opposition to the proposal. And there should be an outcry about the EU commission decision to block a proposed European citizens’ initiative on TTIP and the similar EU-Canada proposed deal (Ceta), which was backed by more than 200 organisations across Europe.

Please keep reporting regularly on TTIP, and let’s all demand that the BBC and other news outlets cover this critically important issue.
Natalie Bennett
Leader, Green party of England and Wales

• On behalf of the European commission I would like to reassure Owen Jones that the TTIP trade deal with the US will be no threat to the NHS. Publicly funded health services are excluded from most trade deals. Healthcare services are excluded from the general government procurement agreement at the World Trade Organisation. They are even in large part exempted from the EU’s own single-market rules.

TTIP will be no different. The deal the commission will propose will not require the UK government or NHS to put anything out to private contract. TTIP will not give US companies leeway to sue a future UK government for returning privatised or contracted-out health services to direct public provision. Neither will we be compromising on food safety in the EU, as some of your other correspondents have alleged.

Furthermore, European governments and parliaments – and not “faceless EU bureaucrats”, as Mr Jones alleges – make the final decisions on all EU trade deals.

The commission will put before them a TTIP deal that will mean more growth and more jobs. Not one that would undermine things that citizens across Europe hold dear and that would anyway have no chance of agreement.
Jacqueline Minor
Head, European commission office in London

• Owen Jones sees the TTIP and its system of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) as an attack on democracy. Looked at from the opposite direction, ISDS effectively dismantles capitalism. The justification of capitalism has always been that it directs capital to those best able to use it. ISDS replaces this impetus of capitalism with the comfort blanket of permanent society support. ISDS removes the risk from business investment and places all risk on the consumer and on the taxpayer. As corporations no longer pay tax, society effectively underwrites all risk. The last time this happened, we called it feudalism. Under feudalism, the barons acknowledged allegiance to the monarch, under God. Under ISDS, monarchy is replaced by corporate bodies under their God, money.
Martin London
Henllan, Denbighshire

• Well done, Owen Jones, for the long-awaited and very welcome follow-up to George Monbiot’s article last November. Let’s hope it isn’t too late. As the letter from the World Development Movement, War on Want and others that you published on 12 September warned, that day was the last chance for Vince Cable to use the UK’s veto to remove ISDS from the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta). The TUC’s international head, Owen Tudor, has said that once Ceta is implemented, “most of the worries people have about TTIP will already have come to pass”. Any news on that lethal agreement? Was it finalised on 12 September? Did Cable use his veto? (Or are those airborne porkers passing my window now?) Please let us know.
John Airs

• Owen Jones is quite right that the anti-EU right’s failure to object to the TTIP “demonstrates the duplicity of rightwing Euroscepticism”. However, he seems not to notice that the issue also illustrates the dishonesty of centre-left Europhilia. Jones does not even name the European commission among the villains of the affair. The TTIP gives the lie to those commentators who insist the EU is a force for social progress. If the TTIP goes through as it stands, support for continued membership of the EU will be incompatible with any position that can claim to be social democratic.

Perhaps the Guardian could publish the answer to this question: the TTIP is a treaty between the EU and the US; if it is finalised while the UK is a member of the EU, would a subsequent “Brexit” free us from its rules?
John Wilson

Carol Ann Duffy Carol Ann Duffy, poet laureate. Photograph: Murdo Macleod

Irvine Welsh lives up to his reputation as a writer of fiction with his assertion on the front page of Saturday’s Guardian that the yes campaign came “within a whisker of a sensational victory” in the Scottish referendum. The noes polled 24% more votes than the yeses (2,001,926 to 1,617,989). And only four of Scotland’s 32 regions voted yes. That’s more of a country mile than a whisker.
Dominic Lawson
Dallington, East Sussex

• As a yes voter, my eyes filled with tears on reading Carol Duffy’s poignant poem, September 2014, on Saturday’s front page – as if I had grasped that thorny thistle. So much said in so few words!
Margaret Geyer
Tayport, Fife

• As a Scottish voter bewildered by the issues in the referendum, I welcomed the exceptionally high quality of comment on the subject by Guardian writers. What I found even more helpful, however, was your letters page. Day after day, readers on both sides of the debate expressed their views in clear, knowledgable, passionate and often brilliantly worded language, often illuminating aspects not covered elsewhere. What a resource are Guardian readers!
Susan Tomes

• If only English MPs are to be permitted to vote on English laws (Report, 20 September), surely only women MPs should be allowed to vote on subjects affecting women’s rights, and so on.
Gordon Reece

• You note that the referendum turnout was “awesome” (Editorial, 20 September). Your conversion to the world view of the Lego Movie is welcome. As it reminds us, “everything is awesome, everything is cool when you’re part of a team”.
Keith Flett

Fitting solar thermal water heaters onto the roof, Eigg Community energy: fitting solar thermal water heaters onto the roof of a cottage on the Hebridean island of Eigg, which has a completely renewables-powered electricity grid. Photograph: Paul Hackett/Reuters

How silly of Jenny Turner, in her review of Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything, to refer so patronisingly to the “knit-your-owns” (Review, 20 September). Of course governments should be taking on this threat – and of course we keep on telling them so. But voluntary groups like Ovesco, a community-owned and -funded renewable energy company, also create large amounts of green energy through lots of hard and mostly unpaid work. Organisations like ours are the means by which many people know about climate change, understand that renewables are simply common sense, and see that there are ways in which they can act. Big things arise from little things; governments will not take notice until the many start demanding that they do. It will be a welcome day when/if we are able to pass the task over to them; I am quite looking forward to doing some knitting.
Elizabeth Mandeville
Lewes, East Sussex

Margaret Thatcher leaving 10 Downing Street for the last time as prime minister. Margaret Thatcher leaving 10 Downing Street for the last time as prime minister. Photograph: Lennox Ken/mirrorpix

In the current climate of ever-rising work-related stress and mental illness caused by working conditions, it only surprises me that it would surprise any researcher to discover that psychopaths are very likely to be in authority roles in large organisations (Report, 19 September). In the public sector as well as private companies, a lot of people on the receiving end have been aware of it for a long time.
Mark Lewinski
Swaffham Prior, Cambridgeshire

• A “theoretical physician” (Who said Britons were drunk, dirty and deplorable?, 20 September) sounds a rather dangerous thing to be; I think João Magueijo must be a theoretical physicist, which is a very different occupation.
Elizabeth Grist
New Barnet, Hertfordshire

• While their exploits are legendary, there is nothing made-up about the existence of Ireland’s three patron saints (Letters, 17 September). Saint Patrick, Saint Brigit and Saint Columba were all real people, as was Saint Piran, patron of Cornwall, another “home nation” that might one day gain independence.
Cian Molloy
Wicklow, Ireland

• Great story from Hilary Mantel (The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher: August 6th 1983, Review, 20 September), but I would not have missed that stabbed-in-the-back, tearful exit from Downing Street for anything.
Sheila Rigby
Bognor Regis, West Sussex

• Kay Ara (Letters, 20 September) may be very happy looking at photographs of a man in pants. It put me off my dinner. I do not expect that on Page 3 of the Guardian.
Mari Booker



Sir, As an Anglo-Scot with a Scottish wife, I heard the good news on Friday that I was not, after all, going to be married to a foreigner. The last thing I now wish to see is the growth of an harrumphing Longshanks tendency in Westminster. Having worked in London in an office overlooking Big Ben, I am very aware of the evolution of a form of government which aggravates hitherto-submerged cultural divisions.

William the Conqueror took no account of the north until its peoples rose against him. The result was genocide. Nevertheless, the Conqueror found England to have a most profitable, efficient, system of centralised tax gathering and local government. The evolution of government from these early beginnings is peculiar to Britain. In Europe a revolution was needed before the Napoleonic system could be either adopted or imposed, yet ironically this was more suited to the devolution of the power to govern and raise taxes.

Here, nothing can be done without central government approval or oversight. The British system has reached the stage where it is totally unsuited to such devolution. In our former American colonies the problem was overcome by federalism and the sometimes-bloody assertion of states’ rights, while all the time retaining the Anglo-Saxon posse comitatus.

The downside to the British genius in retaining some of the old while evolving the new, is the production of back-of-a-fag-packet solutions.

Devolution undoubtedly requires a federalist solution, to which our old, creaking system of local government is totally unsuited. For the first time in our history we now perhaps need to tear things up and start again.
Keith Elliot Hunter
Ilkley, W Yorks

Sir, I have been a member of the Labour Party since 1983 but I profoundly disagree with the Labour leadership on how to deal with the fall-out from the “No” vote in the independence referendum.

The only viable solution for the UK is a genuine federal system, whereby the UK Parliament is responsible for agreed federal issues and devolved assemblies in the four home countries deal with the residue. If that causes problems for Labour in England so be it.

Both Canada and Australia — Commonwealth territories to whom we have bequeathed parliamentary systems — both operate on a federal basis.

Sometimes parents should follow the examples of their children.

Alex Rae


Sir, I find it preposterous that Messers Cameron, Gove, Hague, Redwood et al seriously think that their solution to the West Lothian Question, namely English votes for English laws by the same set of English MPs who also legislate on UK-wide policy is remotely tenable, for it raises more anomalies than it solves. The one that I would like to raise is: how is it possible to imagine an MP from a non-English constituency ever becoming the British prime minister?

An English parliament together with a US senate-style UK parliament does solve this, and many other anomalies. Wouldn’t it be nice if politicians could think beyond short-term political expediencies? For the sake of the long term stability of the UK, I hope all parties will give this proposal proper consideration, and not simply regard it as the goal of a nationalistic minority.

William Barford


Sir, In addition to examining (“How Germany kept its trust in teachers”, letters Sept 18), it might be be worth a look at the German political system also — should politicians be intent on their pledge to review the British system in the wake of the Scottish Referendum. Given the success of the coalition government, thanks in no small part to David Cameron and Nick Clegg’s courage, it would seem that coalition governments can and do work — whatever the Jonahs say. Much of the economic success of Germany can be ascribed to the stability and even-handedness of its political system.

Michael Bacon
Watford, Herts

Sir, True Scots should not be too despondent. Now that Brown, Darling and Cameron et al can return Scotland to the backburner and ensconce themselves on their cosy green benches at Westminster, 45 per cent of us can excuse ourselves from culpability when the promised extra powers to the Scottish parliament are cast aside, minimised or deferred. The 55 per cent will have much to contemplate when they are left grinding on the rusty Tory/Labour swings-and-roundabouts of London establishment politics
William Burns

Sir, With regard to the Union, we should examine England’s tendency to bray the national anthem at the other home nations before sporting events. If I were Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish I would be irritated beyond civility by another home nation singing my national anthem at me. Should we not take a leaf out of the books of athletics and cricket and use another song?
Roger Bull
Islington Green, N1

Sir, Westminster is going to need superb constitutional advice, as was provided by the previous Clerk of the House of Commons, Sir Robert Rogers. You reported that he left because of Mr Bercow’s behaviour

(“Parting shot from Commons clerk questions Speaker’s role”, Sept 21). Surely it is not too late for MPs to oust Bercow, thus allowing Sir Robert to return to his duties? The needs of the country must take precedence over one individual.
John Harris

Sir, More people live in Essex than voted “Yes” in the Scottish referendum, so if more powers are to be devolved to Scotland then the higher subsidy paid to those living there should cease.

sir bob russell,

Lib-Dem MP for Colchester,

Colchester, Essex

Sir, Westminster’s challenge now is to engage 84 per cent of the electorate outside of Scotland.
roy hamlin

Sir, Tattoos. Was there ever a more apposite three-letter start to another word for eyesore?

Edward Macauley


Sir, I noticed today that the annual migration of local university Freshers has begun, a week earlier than previously: another result of climate change, perhaps?

JR Knight

Reading, Berks

Sir, I am delighted that the “Better Together” faction gained 85 per cent of the votes cast. It is marvellous news that women and men can play golf together, at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club.
Jim Macey
Bracknell, Berks


Victims of trafficking need more and better support after they come forward

2.4 million victims of human trafficking worldwide, says UN

Photo: Alamy

6:58AM BST 21 Sep 2014


SIR – As Peter Oborne , slavery is by no means confined to the history books.

In Britain nearly 3,000 trafficked women are working as prostitutes at any given time. Instead of being helped, many trafficked victims face prosecution, deportation and the risk of being re-trafficked, which means they are often reluctant to testify against their traffickers.

While the Modern Slavery Bill is a step in the right direction, as it offers victims immunity, there needs to be a far greater focus on the support available once they come forward. Proposals to extend statutory support to victims beyond 45 days are absolutely vital and must become law.

Jakki Moxham
Chief Executive, Housing for Women
London SW9

Uniting against Isil

SIR – Turkey was understandably loath to join a multinational response to Isil while 49 of its citizens stil remained captives of the organisation and after Nato failed to invoke Article 5 in its defence.

Without evidence of robust support, the message to all aggressors was clear: concerted Nato action can easily be avoided by seizing hostages from the sovereign territories of diplomatic missions.

Robert Stephenson
Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire

Bricks and nostalgia

SIR – As David Kynaston points out, planners, given the opportunity, will always sweep away the old in favour of the new.

Like Prom organisers who like to set Beethoven beside Boulez, London’s architectural planners preserve a St Pancras Station here but insert a Shard there, just for the sake of the frisson created by the old-new contrast.

Isolated concessions, such as the campaign to save Giles Gilbert-Scott’s redundant Battersea Power Station, may come across as exercises in nostalgia and ultimately speed the plough of unsentimental modernisers.

David Pope
London NW11

Over-managed NHS

SIR – It is no wonder the National Health Service is experiencing financial problems when it is drowning under too many tiers of bureaucracy.

Each area of the NHS is managed by scores of different trusts, all with several layers of management and all apparently carrying out identical tasks for the area covered by their group.

Other successful industries have a board to make policies and one layer of managers to implement them.

Let doctors and nurses use their skills without being harassed by inexperienced box-tickers.

Stanley Mangham
Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire

A royal injustice

SIR – I am less concerned about cruelty to goldfish in Jamie Lloyd’s Richard III than I am about Shakespeare’s cruelty to the real Richard III, possibly the best king of England and certainly no murderer.

Rev Philip Foster
Hemingford Abbots, Huntingdonshire

Westminster walk

SIR – Baroness Hanham racked up a bill of almost £1,000 in taxi fares for 38 journeys between the Houses of Parliament and Waterloo.

A single ticket from Westminster to Waterloo on the Jubilee Line costs £4.70, or just £2.20 with an Oyster Card. The walk can be pleasant, costs nothing, and might do the baroness a power of good.

Charles Foster
Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire

SIR – There is only one viable way in which the British constitution could be changed to permit the delegation of powers to England to match those to be granted to Scotland: the creation of a separately elected English parliament in addition to the UK Parliament at Westminster.

The cost of introducing an extra tier of government could be mitigated by greatly reducing the number of Westminster MPs, while moving the new English parliament away from London could lend it wider acceptance.

Tony Allen
Kettlestone, Norfolk

SIR – The leaders of the three main parties had no mandate whatever from the voters who elected them to promise further powers to the Scots, who are already over-privileged and over-funded by comparison with everyone else.

Any MP who has a conscience should vote against implementation of such a promise before justice for the less privileged Welsh and the totally exploited English majority is secured. Otherwise, the only party deserving our votes in the general election will be Ukip.

Norman Baker
Tonbridge, Kent

SIR – While the SNP will be disappointed that it has not achieved independence for Scotland, the result surely gives the party the best of both worlds – the security of knowing that Scotland is still part of the United Kingdom and also, with a 45 per cent vote for independence, the ability to put pressure on Westminster for more devolved powers.

Duncan Rayner
Sunningdale, Berkshire

SIR – Whatever changes are made to the terms and conditions of the Scottish devolution agreement must be matched by more economic and political autonomy for England.

The new constitutional arrangements must be written into a binding legal statute.

Don Bailey
Frodsham, Cheshire

SIR – In their last minute scramble to persuade the Scottish voters to remain part of the UK, our inept political party leaders offered them all kinds of financial inducements.

The people of Scotland already enjoy an enhanced slice of the UK cake and I, for one, do not agree with increasing the differential.

Mick Ferrie
Mawnan Smith, Cornwall

SIR – The Scots have voted in favour of the Union, and politicians now have a responsibility to strengthen the values which bind the people of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Alongside the devolution agenda, the UK Government must pursue policies which actively benefit the entire realm socially, financially and politically.

I propose that Parliament establishes a permanent Standing Committee to advise ministers on the likely effects of projected legislation on the home nations, chaired on a rotational basis by members from each of the constituent countries.

Alan Webb
Chelmsford, Essex

SIR – Scotland has voted No to independence; how does that demonstrate that Scotland wants more devolved powers?

As for England – or indeed Yorkshire, Manchester or London – where is the evidence that we want devolved powers?

Given that the main parties are apparently now all committed to devolution, do we not deserve some referendums?

Peter Cave
London W1

SIR – The Scottish independence debate has focused attention on the need to reform radically the structure of the United Kingdom.

The current system may be described as one of asymmetric devolution; that is, devolution of powers unequally to the four nations. Creating a new English parliament would transform the current system into one of symmetric devolution.

A fully federal system – which would require a significant additional step, namely the drafting of a written constitution specifying the division of powers between the centre and the parts – may represent the only solution that would prove sustainable, meeting the now evident demands for national autonomy without dismantling the Union.

Dr John Law
London W2

SIR – More devolved powers for Scotland? Then more devolved powers for England.

L A Lawrence
Devizes, Wiltshire

SIR – The Scots have had their say, now it’s time for the rest of the UK to have ours on issues such as the end of Barnett Formula, devolution and House of Lords reform.

Anthony Gould
London W1F

SIR – As an Englishman, I would like to congratulate those living in Scotland who decisively voted for the best of both worlds. Not only will it bring more devolved powers to Scotland, it seems to have persuaded our Prime Minister to think about the English for once.

For too long, the majority of people in the UK has been marginalised in the political pursuit of minority interests.

Brian Pegnall
Falmouth, Cornwall

SIR – Now that the Scots have had their opportunity, what chance is there of England being offered the right of independence from Scotland?

Michael I Draper
Nether Wallop, Hampshire

SIR – Cometh the hour, cometh the man. The Queen should act right away. Arise, Sir Gordon Brown.

William Clewes
Lower Bourne, Surrey

SIR – Scotland still has the Tory-led Government it didn’t vote for and now, next year, England will almost certainly have the Labour government it won’t vote for. Democracy?

Graham De Roy
Gosfield, Essex

SIR – As a Better Together campaigner, I am, of course, very happy that No has won fairly comfortably. It would be even better if, in a parallel universe, the Yes campaign had won and its supporters had seen if Alex Salmond’s promise of milk and honey came true. As it is, they will always claim it would have done.

Anthony Garrett
Falkland, Fife

SIR – Are we proud to be Scots? After a referendum costing millions of pounds, which has divided the country, split families and friends and left us with an uneasy truce, I wonder.

Sheena Crichton
Port of Menteith, Perthshire

SIR – The Prime Minister is reported to have said that the Scottish nation will have to live with its No decision for another “generation”, whilst Alex Salmond is reported as having used the word “lifetime”. If, by a “generation”, Mr Cameron means about 25 years, and, by “lifetime”, Mr. Salmond was hinting at a much longer 70 years, does that all imply that these referendums on Scottish independence will continue until an emphatic Yes vote is registered, such that the zip that is Hadrian’s Wall can be undone and Scotland allowed to drift off on its own ?

Frederick Reuben Parr
Tyldesley, Lancashire

SIR – The best way to ensure new legislation required by the Scottish vote is agreed before the next general election is to cancel all MPs’ leave.

James Boyce
Bosbury, Herefordshire

SIR – In the interest of unity, presumably we will have to continue with GMT in the winter and GMT plus one hour in the summer?

Graham Dean
Lewes, East Sussex

SIR – This week Vivienne Westwood, the fashion designer, made all her models at London Fashion Week wear “Yes” badges in support of Scotland’s bid for independence because, as she told her adoring audience, she hates England (, September 15).

Obviously her hatred doesn’t extend to refusing a damehood.

Robert Readman
Bournemouth, Dorset

SIR – Until 2006, Radio 4 played the UK Theme every morning before the Shipping Forecast, but this was ejected in favour of Westminster prattle – the last thing anyone wants to hear at break of day. To celebrate Scotland’s decision, and in the renewed spirit of union, could the UK Theme come back?

E G Nisbet
Egham, Surrey

SIR – If it was Yes, I vowed never to drink Scotch whisky again. What a relief.

Malcolm Allen
Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – Paul Cullen (“Slow response to Halappanavar report”, September 12th) deserves credit for his report on the slow implementation of recommendations made following the death of Savita Halappanavar in University Hospital Galway almost two years ago. It’s encouraging to see that apparently significant work has since taken place with many recommendations implemented in UHG. Most worrying, however, is the slow pace of change and that only one of 39 hospitals ranked itself as “excellent”. A further concern is the use of self-assessment as the method to assess performance in the implementation of recommendations.

Qualitative self-assessment by hospital management is, by itself, a most unsatisfactory way to measure patient safety. Quantitative standards of performance, subject to independent audit, are required. The fundamental flaw throughout our health service is lack of responsibility and accountability. If hospital management is slow to accept responsibility for the speedy implementation of patient safety recommendations, what hope for accountability?

Perhaps the more interesting revelation in Paul Cullen’s report is that the validation of UHG’s self-assessment comes from external management consultants, and not the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) – the statutory body established under the Health Act 2007 to set standards and monitor compliance. I believe that patient safety verification is too important to be delegated, with or without regulatory control, to private enterprise.

Many of the problems in our health service can be linked to the failure of successive governments to clearly define the role of public bodies such as Hiqa and the HSE. These bodies should be empowered to accept responsibility and be accountable.

The Health Act 2007 is the classic example of ambiguity. Hiqa is required to set standards on safety and quality, and then monitor compliance in relation to services provided by the HSE or service provider. Hiqa’s only function thereafter is to advise the Minister and the HSE. Hiqa claims that it’s not responsible for patient safety, but rather the HSE.

The HSE is compromised in its approach to patient safety. The patient safety test it uses is a self-assessed assurance provided by a public hospital that the resources provided by the HSE are being used by the hospital in the most efficient and effective manner. This assurance is accepted even if the resources provided by the HSE are inadequate to ensure the necessary standard of patient safety. Hiqa is also required to operate within the constraints of inadequate resources even if, as a result, patient safety standards are not in line with best international practice. A review of the Health Act 2007 is long overdue. – Yours, etc,


Cypress Downs

Templeogue, Dublin 6W.

Sir, – Dr John M Regan (September 17th) commenting on Charles Townshend’s review of Gemma Clark’s Everyday Violence in the Irish Civil War and focusing specifically on the depopulation of southern Irish Protestants between 1911 and 1926, rejects Prof Townshend’s observation that this population decline, if not ethnic cleansing, was a process far from normal.

The exodus of tens of thousands of Protestants from the Irish Free State heralding the decline in the Protestant population was not as a result of sectarianism, intimidation or land-grabbing. Such views clearly promote a sectarian narrative about republican actions during the War of Independence and is not supported by evidence. Although some Irish Protestants were victims of a process of expulsion, coercion, and in some cases murder – acts which would have been abhorred by those who planned the Easter Rising – there are reasons other than those suggested by Prof Townshend.

A significant contributor to this population decline can be identified with the Great War and aggressively encouraged Protestant relocation north. The horrific slaughter of young Irish Protestant men in the first World War had a devastating and disproportionate impact on the male Protestant population of the South.

This was reflected in the birth rate for decades following the war. In addition, the Northern Ireland regime led by Sir James Craig enticed large numbers of Protestants, through the offer of government jobs and housing, to relocate north of the Border in an attempt to offset Catholic majorities in Border counties. Some in government service chose to leave with their families rather than enter the civil/public service of the Free State.

In addition, there was a large British military establishment in Ireland which was stood down in 1922. This group was disproportionately Protestant.

Others left because they no longer enjoyed social and official privilege being Protestant once brought.

Furthermore, the strong religious, cultural and political ties which southern Protestants had in common with the northern majority resulted in a sizable shift of Protestants north across the Border.

It is worth noting that two Protestants who decided to stay south subsequently became presidents of Ireland. – Yours, etc,


Templeville Road,


Dublin 6W.

Sir, – The subject of Protestant depopulation in the area of independent Ireland continues to provoke analysis and comment, especially within the scholarly community.

John M Regan mentions the recent publication by Prof David Fitzpatrick on the subject of Southern Irish depopulation. It is particularly gratifying to see that Prof Fitzpatrick has arrived substantially at the same conclusion I arrived at in 1993 in my article in the Irish Economic and Social History Journal. In a study of the Dublin Protestant working class (with conclusions on the whole Protestant experience), I concluded that the causes of Protestant decline in Dublin, apparent since the 1820s, were social and economic.

The deindustrialisation of Ireland led to economic decline, leading in turn to a fall in immigration of Protestant persons from Great Britain, along with accelerating out-migration of Irish Protestants.

However, also very significant was the social force of marriage, especially the marriage pattern of Irish Protestant women marrying British military grooms on an Irish tour of duty.

I found that fully one-third of Protestant brides married British military grooms. The loss of young marriageable females to British soldiers was much more significant than the notorious Ne Temere decree in depleting Protestant society.

It seemed to me then, in 1993, and recent research has tended to confirm my conclusions, that social class is more important than religion in explaining depopulation.

The survival of a confident and prosperous Protestant middle class in the independent Irish state suggests that the simple category “Protestant” is not sufficient to sustain an historical explanation. – Yours, etc,


Senior Lecturer,

Department of Humanities.

Dundalk Institute

of Technology,


Co Louth.

Sir, – John Bruton’s assertion that the Home Rule Act of 1914 would have ultimately led peacefully to national independence is mere speculation (“Scotland shows 1916 Rising a mistake, says Bruton”, September 18th). The parallel he now draws with Scotland is absurdly unhistorical and ignores the radically changed contexts of a century. Even if the 1914 Act had been implemented (with some form of partition) it would have delivered no more than a mild measure of local government, of the kind later provided by the Government of Ireland Act 1920. The truth is that the imperial government was determined to preserve the integrity of the United Kingdom at all costs.

At a time of rapid transformation of a London-controlled British Empire to a Commonwealth of self-governing states (at least for the former “white” colonies), the London government set its face adamantly against dominion status for Ireland, with Lloyd George denouncing the notion as “lunacy”.

Whether we like it or not, the imperial mindset was forcefully changed only by the nationalist resurgence of 1919-1921 guerrilla war, a successful counter-administration, civil resistance, dramatic hunger strikes, the impact of British and world liberal opinion – resulting in the 1921 treaty. That settlement, whatever its limitations,provided the essence of independence, and constituted a chalk-and-cheese difference from 1914 home rule.

Moreover, independent Ireland, and the way it came about, was a world removed from the genteel order envisaged by well-off, elite, gentlemen politicians and their latter-day admirers. – Yours,etc.


Emeritus Professor

of Irish History,

University College Cork.

Sir, – Congratulations on your editorial “Humanity and asylum” (September 17th). I have never understood why Ireland is so uniquely vulnerable to hordes of job-hunting asylum seekers that we are the only EU country (apart from Lithuania) which bars these poor people from working. Similarly I have never understood why we are among the very few nations in Europe that bars the children of asylum seekers from subsidised third-level education.

Why do we allow this cruel system of depriving a small number of defenceless people of work and education to continue? Rather than hide behind a few hard-faced senior bureaucrats in the Department of Justice, the Minister, Frances Fitzgerald – a decent, liberal woman – should end it as soon as possible. Ireland’s image as a civilised and humane nation demands nothing less. – Yours, etc,


Palmerston Road,


Dublin 6.

A chara, – There can hardly be better proof of the correlation between the political “silly season” than the current controversy about the direct provision system for asylum seekers.

Much has been made of the fact that some people and their Irish-born families have been in the system for up to a decade. Apart from the trademark State inefficiency in doing anything, they are there because they have chosen not to accept the answers given to their asylum application and appeal which were negative. These processes are now dealt with in 12 and 18 weeks, respectively. They are instead pursuing an eight-stage process at taxpayer expense which has resulted in over 849 appeals being listed at the High Court on June 14th and many more at Supreme Court level.

Among the “rights” being demanded for asylum seekers are that they should be allowed to work and attend free university education. Can you imagine the influx these pull-factors would generate? How many more “unaccompanied minors” would appear to claim their third-level education, and more “workers” for the dole queue?

It is clear to what the real agenda is – cancellation of current deportation orders and no future deportations. This would mean effectively no State control over who stays in the country – once you’re in, you’re in for ever.

Comments by the neophyte Minister of State for Justice Aodhán Ó Ríordáin that the system is “inhumane” are plainly inaccurate and potentially dangerous in a country already burdened with a host of litigious victim groups. –Is mise,


Carrigaline Road,


A chara, – I was somewhat surprised by the unexpected rush of emotion and disappointment I experienced upon confirmation of the referendum result on Friday morning. A scan of Irish social media and online commentary appeared to display a similar feeling in our national psyche.

It occurred to me that this feeling of disappointment stems from a simple inability to comprehend why a nation would choose to maintain ties to an archaic, hierarchical and still monarchy-centred power structure, rather than make the first move away from it.

And then I remembered that every morning, I get to wake up and live in this great – albeit imperfect – little democracy, where our hardworking political leader has the air of a kindly country uncle and our much-loved head of state the defiant pose of a radical poet.

And I rejoiced that because we as a nation made a different choice, many years ago, I could help to elect whomsoever I choose to these positions of power. And I put my shoes on and went to work in a Republic where I strongly sensed – to quote a Mayo poet – “Davitt’s ghost smiling everywhere”. – Is mise,



An Muileann,

Oileán Chliara,

Co Mhaigh Eo.

Sir, – I was shocked on a return pilgrimage to Oliver Goldsmith’s Lissoy parsonage to see how the structure has deteriorated over the past half a century. Goldsmith spent his formative years here. His most famous poem resounds with the sights and sounds and characters of this unassuming midlands area.

Stones seemingly stand in mid-air with little to support them. Should one apparently floating boulder collapse, it would irreparably damage the last remaining window frame. While awaiting proper restoration, even some pointing work would protect from the forthcoming frosts. But unless something is done soon, the remaining walls will crumble to the ground.

A lamentable disrespect to the man whose poems moved millions and writers as diverse as Samuel Johnson and James Joyce. I hope he would forgive the parody – Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey, Where wealth accumulates and sacred sites decay. – Yours, etc,


Mountjoy Street,

Dublin 7.

Sir, – Daisy Hawksworth (September 15th) laments the “perfection” of magazine models. Has she not noticed how miserable most of them look? Sadly the modelling and photographic worlds seem to be ignorant of the fact that the best (and cheapest) beauty treatment is a smiling face. – Yours, etc,


Woodley Park,


Sir, – Further to the letter of Sofia Rainey (September 16th), oh, if only I had read when a teenager! I’m now 63 and still trying to catch up! I never will; the older you get the harder it is to keep the concentration going.

So, please teenagers, start reading now. It’s something you will never regret. No technology will replace the magic of reading. – Yours, etc,




Co Donegal.

Sir, – I recently flew Aer Lingus, returning home to Dublin after a trip to the US. The passengers were of all ages, including toddlers, children and teenagers.

Midway through the flight the captain made an announcement that duty-free items were on sale. He made a particular point of mentioning that cheap cigarettes could be purchased. He didn’t place the same emphasis on the favourable deals on any other products. Large cartons of cigarettes were the most prominent articles displayed as the trolley went around the aisles.

I’m not suggesting that the airline has a deliberately pro-tobacco agenda. That would be ridiculous. But it certainly didn’t sit well with me that the pilot and crew of the aircraft – people whose positions I expect are admired by many of the children aboard – appeared to be supporting smoking, however tacitly.

Even though cigarettes are proven to cause numerous fatal diseases, I’m a firm believer in people’s right to choose what risks they take regarding their own health. However, I would encourage Aer Lingus to give some thought to how it handles the advertisement, display and sale of tobacco products when there is a captive audience of children on board. – Yours, etc,


Specialist Registrar

in Medicine for the Elderly,

St James’s Hospital,

Dublin 8.

Sir, – My enjoyment of the nostalgic correspondence on the above topic is somewhat tempered by an apprehension that some time in the future, people will question why nobody called a halt to the current practise of paper sellers walking up and down between rows of commuter traffic inhaling exhaust fumes for a couple of hours every afternoon.

Surely those with responsibility for health and safety at work, or indeed those charged with enforcing the Road Traffic Acts, should act before we are reminiscing about a time when paper sellers had the lung capacity to shout at all. – Yours, etc,


Aughrim Street,

Dublin 7.

Sir, – The web is awash with critics panning U2 for flooding iTunes with their latest “free” album. Whatever about the music, lambasting U2 for allegedly promoting a culture of free music is seriously misguided.

Contrary to what their critics think, U2 may have just spotted a smart way for musicians to create a new avenue to make future income from their copyright or recorded work in a universe where it has evidently no direct value to consumers. – Yours, etc,


Andres Mellado, Madrid.

Irish Independent:

In 21st century Ireland women are still being excluded from access to third-level education.

We hear a lot from the Government about getting people back into education and lifelong learning in order to improve job prospects and get people off social welfare.

Access courses are designed to provide access to third-level education for people whose socio-economic background prevents them from entering third-level education.

Of the 12 or so institutions in Dublin to provide such courses all bar three of the courses are full-time. And two of those three are held in the evenings.

How can women and men with children, single parents and carers (the majority of whom are women and save the State significant costs in care bills) hope to use this service?

The very socio-economic background that qualifies candidates for entrance to these courses means that they have lives which are not 9-5. We need part-time access courses in the daytime and they need to be widely available.

When ‘Women and Education in Ireland ‘(NUI) was published 15 years ago it identified the very same problems. And when a candidate enters third level having finished the Access course – it is a full-time commitment.

Third-level education is a challenge of intelligence and creativity and that is the way it should be. However, it should not be made harder for people with families, mothers of young children, single parents and carers or care-givers and those who cannot attend full-time – most of who are women.

Social Welfare and the course providers need to come together and offer a pathway to third-level education which is flexible, accessible and where people are not scared off with cuts in benefits if they attend.

“Women do not enter or return to education for an easy time. They do it to get a job, to get a better job, to be a role-model to their kids, to lift themselves and their families out of a history of dependence on the state. It radiates out and benefits very level of society.”

The quote above was written in 1864. It is as relevant today as it was then because it is timeless.

Marguerite Doyle, Santry, Dublin 9

North must not be abandoned

In her column last week (September 16) Liz O’Donnell questioned Sinn Fein‘s suitability for government in the Republic. Thankfully, that decision lies with the people who rejected Liz’s now-defunct Progressive Democrats.

Ms O’Donnell questions Sinn Fein’s ability to reach agreement in the North on welfare cuts and outstanding issues in the political process.

Sinn Fein has built and delivered agreements from the Hume/Adams initiative through to the Good Friday and ancillary agreements. Sinn Fein has always honoured its commitments, abided by agreements and sustained the institutions.

It is not Sinn Fein that is threatening the political process. Look at the record of Martin McGuinness to see how far Sinn Fein has moved to promote reconciliation and reach agreement.

A section of political unionism however, is opposed to power-sharing and equality. This element has walked away from Programme for Government commitments, threatened the institutions, failed to abide by legal rulings of the Parades Commission and challenged the independence of the courts.

Unionist leaders refused to accept the Haass/O’Sullivan compromise proposals on parades, flags and dealing with the past.

Unionist leaders walked out of talks and have yet to return.

Sinn Fein wants agreement on these issues, but it must be on the context of the Good Friday Agreement, which was by the people of Ireland.

As co-guarantors of the Agreement, the Irish and British government cannot walk away from their obligations.

Efforts to hollow out the agreements and undermine the institutions must be resisted by London and Dublin.

It is no surprise that Liz O’Donnell, as a former PD, supports cuts to welfare benefits to the disabled and a tax on people in social housing. But, as far as Sinn Fein is concerned, these cuts are wrong. They have had a disastrous impact in Britain. We would oppose such cuts in Dublin, Cork or Donegal and will not impose them in the North.

Sinn Fein has demonstrated its capability for government.

Sinn Fein has not, and will not, shy away from hard decisions in government or in the peace process. But neither will Sinn Fein be forced into making the wrong decisions.

There is a need now for both governments, with the support of the US administration, to defend the agreements that have been made and to ensure their implementation.

Gerry Adams, TD, Leinster House, Dublin

Scotland an example to all

The Scottish referendum must be taught in schools. Scotland has gained worldwide admiration for its ingenuity, rationality and democratic performance.

There was no deployment of tanks and military personnel such as the case in the Crimean peninsula, no electoral fraud and rigging as the case in many parts of the world, and – most importantly – no illegal forms of voter intimidation.

The voting was a happy ending, a colourful demonstration of a strong sense of belonging to the UK. The UK has asserted itself as the bastion of freedom and democracy. As Prime Minister David Cameron put it “now it is time for our United Kingdom to come together and move forward”.

Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob, London

Balfour no friend of Home Rule

John Bruton – both in his articles on Home Rule and also during his recent appearance on RTE’s Prime Time – refers to former British prime minister Arthur Balfour as supporting Home Rule. I would respectfully suggest that, before Mr Bruton releases some more howlers about Mr Balfour and Home Rule that he read and study ‘Aspects of Home Rule’ by Mr Balfour. It is a collections of speeches collected from the Times newspaper with the assistance of the Conservative Central Office. The Book – 247 pages of vitriolic anti-Irish language – was published in 1912 by George Routledge and Sons. In three words Mr Balfour describes the Home Rule Bill as “a legislative farce”.

Mr Balfour’s statement in Belfast on April 3 1893 sums up his feelings about Home Rule.

“Whatever be the combination of forces arrayed on the side of this iniquitous measure, the forces against is so united and so strong in principle, and above all so strong in the righteousness and justice of their cause, that surely in the end they will prevail.”

With friends like that, who needs enemies.

Hugh Duffy, Cleggan, Co Galway

Irish Independent

Alison De Vere Hunt

More in Letters (2 of 20 articles)

Saving rural Ireland Read More


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